Public Hearing at Nagatacho

Foreign University Lecturers and Four Unions Meet Ministry Officials and Lawmakers

What was expected to be another lackluster negotiating sessions with junior officials of the Ministry of Education (MoE), the Ministry of Labor and Welfare (MoL/W) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) concerning the problems of foreign university teachers turned out to be the real deal this time. Seven or more lawmakers or their secretaries and 15 ministry officials met with over 30 union members and their supporters on March 8th at House of Councilors Conference Hall in Nagatacho, Tokyo. Requests and questions had been submitted in advance by Part-time Teachers? Union Tokyo (UPTL-Tokyo), University Teachers Union (UTU), Part-time Teachers?Union in Osaka (UPTL-Kansai) and Fukuoka General Union (FGU). The issues raised concerned limited-term contracts and their consequences, discrimination against foreign teachers, especially with regard to promotion and information policy, and the drawbacks of the Japanese pension system to foreigners who work for fewer than 25 years in Japan. The UTU Survey of Foreign Nationals at Japanese Universities 2004 had clearly depicted these matters as major issues. The bureaucrats read out their replies to the union presentations unemotionally and almost inaudibly, but rapidly, so that even some Japanese could not understand.

The ensuing discussion showed the government?s position ? discrimination based on nationality is prohibited by the Labour Standards Law, but the conditions foreigners are subject to are not explicitly prohibited or addressed by the Law. If they were, the ministries would have to take them on case-by-case, or individuals could take the cases to the Labour Council. Reiko Endo of the (UPTL-Kansai) emphatically insisted that we have many clear cases of discrimination. As one example, Noboru Shida, president of the UPTL-Tokyo, introduced an associate professor of English who has been working at International University of Health and Welfare in Tochigi for ten years, during which he has been the university’s only tenured foreign teacher. Now the university is trying to demote him and cut his pay because they say his Japanese is not good ? this, even though he’s developed many language programs, is more widely published than all of his department colleagues combined, and has among the highest student evaluations in the university. In addition, all foreign teachers (with the exception of two Chinese contract teachers who don’t belong to the labor union) have been, or will soon be, fired. Demands for response by lawmakers produced only meaningless, repetitious, mumbled answers from the bureaucrats.

The atmosphere changed when Arudou Debito of Sapporo described the case of Gwendolyn Gallagher who was fired from Asahikawa University because her Japanese was too good! She was considered no longer a ?fresh gaijin?. No response was heard from the ministries officials. At that point, FGU chairperson Stephanie Houghton stood up to contrast the way she felt as an ALT working for the Ministry of Education in 1993 with the way she now feels at her university on a limited non-renewable contract; a policy seemingly approved by the ministry. She said she was disgusted at the racism she now feels in Japan as an unwanted long-term native-speaker. Stephanie then quoted from the definition of racial discrimination given in the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and asked whether the officials thought discrimination against culturally hybrid native-speakers of foreign languages (who no longer count as ?fresh gaijin?) counted as discrimination. Applause from the union side at her lively account ? embarrassment on the part of the officials.

Then, SPJ head Mizuho Fukushima stepped in to ask the officials to research the issues and provide written answers. The MoE official replied twice that they did not know whether any research had been done and whether any data existed. Stephanie reminded the officials that the Japanese government is obliged to submit reports to the United Nations on racial discrimination in Japan and asked how the government could possible do this if they did not research the problem. Once again, silence ensued. Lawmakers and unions once again pressured them to research the problems the unions had brought up and were ordered by Diet Member Fukushima to report to M. Kaneda`s office, in written form, and stated that the unions would be furnished the reports by Kaneda?s office. The hearing ended after 75 minutes.

The progress demonstrated at these hearings was the visible support of more Upper and Lower House representatives. The movement to secure equal treatment for foreign university instructors is gaining momentum, and the ministries cannot brush it aside easily anymore. But further cooperation among foreigners is required, as well as better networking among unions presenting foreigners? problems. For this reason, and for your own sake as a foreigner in Japan, take some interest these proceedings and support your labour unions in their struggle against discrimination, and for more stable workplaces. (HT-UTU)

Right side of the law

I am an Assistant Language Teacher at a middle school outside of Tokyo. My employer is a large dispatch company, but I’m not sure if it has a dispatch license.

My manager told me the company has a “gyomu-itaku” or “entrusted service contract” with the local school board. One thing confusing me is whether I am under the authority of my employer, the middle school or both.

Foreign English teachers call for fair treatment

About 40 foreign English teachers urged the government Friday to take steps to eradicate the serious problems they face on the job, including low wages and sudden dismissal.

Kazuo Inoue, one of the three DPJ lawmakers present, said Japan needs to immediately improve foreigners’ working conditions and protect their rights.

Louis Carlet, a deputy secretary general of the National Union of General Workers, Tokyo South, said in the meeting that the economic slowdown in recent years has adversely affected working conditions for non-Japanese English teachers at private language schools, public schools and universities.

“Job security for foreign teachers is virtually nonexistent today in Japan,” he said, noting that some people had been denied membership in their employers’ social security programs and had been fired for trivial reasons.

Class action

What would you do if you were sacked for “clicking your pen too much in class,” or for “talking to yourself during your break” . . . or how about for “only eating the topping on your rice during lunch?”
These are all actual reasons given for showing English teachers the door, says Louis Carlet, who works for a union representing several hundred language teachers in the Tokyo area.

“The biggest problem for foreign teachers is arbitrary dismissal . . . complete disregard for and flagrant violation of the labor laws.”

via Google Cache (no registration required)

Japan mulls multicultural dawn

Mr Nakatani is worried because Japanese are living longer, yet having fewer children. The result is a shrinking workforce which threatens economic growth.

In recognition, the government is thinking of loosening its restrictive immigration policy.

But any changes may come as a shock to a nation where registered foreigners make up just over 1% of its population.

‘No sex please, you’re teachers’

According to the language school chain’s instructor contract, foreign employees are forbidden to “participate in any interaction with the clients of the employer outside the place of employment.” In theory, insist Nova instructors, they are under threat of the sack for so much as a chance encounter with any of the company’s 450,000 students.

McEnglish for the masses

“The largest eikaiwa school has a staff turnover of 70 percent a year,” says Dennis Tesolat, vice-chair of the General Union, which represents hundreds of teachers in Japan.

“They have guys whose job is it to go to the airports just to pick up new teachers. And that’s because the teachers have a grueling schedule of eight lessons a day, with a 10-minute break between each. It’s worse than a factory.”

via Google Cache (no registration required)