The TRILS Case
Fukaya, Saitama 2004
In the summer of 2004, an employee of TRILS, a private ALT outsourcing company in Saitama Prefecture, was actively organizing other Kanto area ALTs into the Tokyo General Union’s predecessor, the National Union of General Workers Tokyo Nambu. He thought as a professional language teacher that ALT working conditions were interfering in his ability to teach professionally: in the rush to privatize ALT jobs in the Japanese education system, it is common for companies not to provide national health insurance, pay statements, nor pay for work in August. Further, in general, a common management practice is to harass employees and compel one to rat out the others in exchange for job security.
In July 2004, the employer actually threatened to kill the employee which the employee happened to record on tape. The company further threatened and harassed the employee, but he continued to work as per his contract and, as within his rights as a tenant, the employee changed the locks of his subleased company apartment and prepared for more harassment.
The employer finally stuck a note into his apartment door saying that he was dismissed due to a rumor that he had done something wrong in a foreign country. When the employee denied the claim and refused the dismissal the employer threatened to send the police after him. The employer sent more threatening letters to the employee in the next week, and then broke the new lock off the employee’s apartment and left a note in his door saying he had done so!
When the employee reported the break and enter to the police, the employer claimed that they thought the employee was in fact dead and rotting away inside the apartment, even though they had been in email correspondence with him and leaving him notes at his apartment. The police were baffled by the actions of the company owners, yet were reluctant to get involved despite written evidence that the employer had indeed forced the door.
A week later, on September 8, TRILS refused to attend collective bargaining with the Union, a violation of Union Law. However, in a fit of rationality, they apologized for the threat to kill the employee. Later in the month, the first Labor Relations Board (Rodo Iinkai) mediation session was attended by both Tokyo General Union’s predecessor, the NUGW Tokyo Nambu, and TRILS. The Union demanded reinstatement of the unfairly dismissed employee. TRILS refused, and then just four days later, they shut off the employee’s gas, water and electricity.
The Union followed with holding a demonstrative leafletting outside the company office of TRILS the next week. By the second mediation session, a union branch had been formed at the company with the unfairly dismissed employee now the TRILS United Branch President. Another employee who had been threatened with a dismissal became the Secretary General; soon after becoming the Secretary General, the company’s threats against him stopped. By this time, the Labor Standards Office was also conducting an investigation into TRILS regarding violations of Labor Standards Laws that were reported by company employees.
The company retaliated by threatening them with 10 pages of invalid work rules with such demands as requiring employees to be available for work in the wee hours of the morning and permitting one teacher to make pay deductions from fellow teachers.
A second leafletting was held at the company office with a speaker van loudly telling the neighbourhood of the wrongs of TRILS. The owners came charging out of the building and pounced on the President. The police were called in and neighbours came out into the street to inquire about the commotion and were also questioned about the situation. The police found that the leafletting was legal, and the Union had made its point very effectively.
On December 3, Diet Member Kazuo Inoue and other Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) members, held a press conference at the Diet with representatives from the Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Education. They heard the TRILS case and other cases involving outsourcing companies and human rights violations. It was in this hearing that the DPJ members also queried the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labor regarding the illegal practice of outsourcing ALTs with fake outsourcing contracts. In part, the solidarity of union branch lead to the Ministry of Education sending out a notice to all prefectural Boards of Education to advise them to stop the illegal practice of gyomu itaku (servicing or outsourcing) contracts.
In the January mediation session, the employer broke down and indicated that the employee would be reinstated. By February, the Union and TRILS United had won reinstatement with 7 months of salary, a settlement of over 1.4 million yen.
In refusing to recognize the branch union, TRILS also lost out on many ALT contracts with the local boards of education. Within one year, more than half the employees had quit or been fired. By the end of the year, only the owner’s right hand man, the rat, remained.
The TRILS United Branch was the first declared union branch at an ALT outsourcing company. The hardest thing to deal with in organizing at a company is the fear that prevails over employees and the practice of management pitting one employee against another. One employee at TRILS often wondered why the salary for ALTs was decreasing while he ratted out his fellow employees.
Employers will get away with anything if employees do not organize and fight for their rights! But this is often the source of the problem: migrant and foreign workers do not know what their rights are. Please check our website to read the law and know your rights.