Yahoo news talks to Tozen about Shane Strikes

Last week Konno Haruki sat down with members of Tozen Union and the Shane Workers Union local to discuss the recent goings on at the company.

The original article is here

Here is an English translation of the article provided by Louis Carlet:

Outraged teachers strike after Shane says corona furlough pay was a ‘loan’
by Haruki Konno, labor policy academic and leader of NPO Posse 12:01pm, Tuesday, 7 July 2020.

Countless workers struggle to make ends meet as coronavirus leads to non-renewals, dispatch agency firings, and even non-payment of the kyugyo te-ate furlough allowance. This includes eikaiwa English conversation schools, whose foreign instructors face economic hardship after losing their jobs.

Shane Corporation runs eikaiwa classrooms around the country. Some of its foreign language teachers belong to Tokyo General Union (Tozen Union). They went on strike last month.
Why did they strike? The roots of the dispute can be found in the spread of appalling work conditions stretching back to pre-covid times; to financial hardship due to a cash advance system instituted by Shane management; and to the anger felt by employees toward a company that has ignored their voices for too long. Let’s look at the details.

Setting work hours at 29.5 hours/week to skirt health insurance enrollment
You may have heard little about labor issues language teachers face. You may think they enjoy high hourly wages with proper benefits and protections. The truth is a very different story.
Tozen Union estimates that Shane employs about 800 full-time teachers. They are hired on one-year fixed-term contracts with contract non-renewal hanging permanently over their heads.
Shane sets their weekly work hours at 29.5 hours, likely a device to evade the legal obligation to enroll employees working 30 or more in the public health insurance system called Kenko Hoken.
Thus, Shane instructors must enroll on their own in the national health insurance system – Kokumin Kenko Hoken. Instructor contracts guarantee about 250,000 yen a month gross, but their take-home pay is much less, particularly if you factor in the national health insurance premium they must cough up without help from their employer.
Shane claims the interval between classes is unpaid break time, but this is a break in name only. Teachers cannot leave the school and must wait on standby in case a potential student drops in for a taiken demo lesson.
Tozen Union began to address these issues in 2012, with the formation of its Shane local chapter. The three founding members demanded an end to fixed-term employment as well as enrollment in the public Shakai Hoken health and pension insurance scheme (which includes Kenko Hoken). The union has maintained these demands to this day.
During the intervening years, there have arisen many problems with Shane’s treatment of teachers. Tozen Union says it has fought against unfair dismissals and other issues with three unfair labor practice cases in the labor commission and four court battles.
A Tozen Union member sued Shane over a non-renewal. The company had refused his application for paid leave in order to prepare for childcare leave, deeming the period absence without leave. In an upset victory for the union, Tokyo High Court overturned a lower court’s ruling as well as Shane’s dismissal of the union member.
Eikaiwa School Instructor Wins Upset Victory as Court Rejects Paid Leave Fixing, Non-Renewal

Corona Aggravates Dispute: It’s a loan, not kyugyo te-ate furlough pay
Tozen Union says Shane closed its schools between April 8 when the state of emergency was declared and May 31. This ended up escalating the labor dispute that had built up over many years.
Shane paid the monthly quarter million yen as normal for the period it had ordered workers to stay home. From the employees’ perspective, management had paid the guaranteed 100% of their wages, just like a ‘decent company.’ Shane, however, had other ideas.
Later they discovered that the 250,000 yen was not kyugyo te-ate furlough pay at all. It was an advance on future salaries for extra work to be done after the June reopening. Shane said workers would have to work to pay back the quarter million yen they had received for April. They obtained no agreement from the employees for such an advance. In effect, workers would receive not a single yen of furlough allowance.
Several times during collective bargaining, Tozen Union asked the company to explain what the April and May payments represented, but management offered no acceptable explanation. On June 29, the company presented two options in a letter to employees.
The first option addressed what was paid for April and May by stipulating that employees would pay back all that had already been paid in excess of the legal minimum kyugyo te-ate furlough allowance. (The Labor Standards Act sets that at 60% of average daily pay, but it often amounts to about 40% of ‘real’ pay.) The second option was to keep the full 100% of what had been paid but provide free make-up lessons to students in order to repay their debts. Barring such future overtime hours, their future pay might even be docked.
Possible Labor Standard Act Violations

Twenty-Three-Member Simultaneous Strike Wins Concession!
In the end, Shane provided Tozen Union no satisfactory explanation and instead unilaterally tried to force each teacher to choose from two options by July 13. Tozen Union determined that collective bargaining was going nowhere and decided to exercise their right to collective action by going on strike.
On June 27, 23 foreign instructors in Tozen Union struck. This was the largest strike by Shane instructors ever in Japan.
Tozen Union demands 100% payment of the furlough allowance; an extra fortnight of paid leave granted to instructors infected with coronavirus; and a management-union committee to discuss workplace safety during the pandemic. These come in addition to the longstanding demands to change the contract period and enroll members in Shakai Hoken.
In the past, the company managed to arrange a replacement teacher to cover for striking teachers, minimizing any potential adverse impact on classes. Some schools had to cancel lessons, however, when the 23 teachers struck. Then, 19 teachers struck on June 30, and 22 again on July 1.

Company operations have begun to see an impact.
Some previously ununionized instructors came to mistrust the company, saw the strikes, and began themselves to get involved in the union. Shane told employees to “repay the full amount if you resign before paying it all back.” (!) One worker confided to the union that, “With the way they treat me, I want to quit. But I have no money, so I can’t quit until I pay it all back. It’s like being held captive.” Dissatisfied and anxious workers flood into the union, Tozen reports.
In face of the strikes, the company has been forced to give ground. Initially, Shane asked employees to pay back the full amount. This meant they had no intention to pay even 1 yen of the kyugyo te-ate furlough allowance. But after 23 teachers struck on June 27, management softened and said workers could keep the 60% as a furlough allowance and only need repay the other 40%(as I explain above). This is clearly insufficient wage coverage, and Tozen Union is fighting for the full 100%.

Problems rack up in the eikaiwa English conversation industry
These problems are not unique to Shane in the language industry.
Tozen Union has a local chapter at Berlitz Japan (in Benesse group). In response to the government’s request to suspend operations, this language giant switched to online lessons. But student numbers fell, nonetheless, and management used this to pay the reduced 60% furlough allowance for time when no online lessons took place.
But the reason is the reduction in students, and the company should be able to find teachers other work to do. Tozen Union therefore insists Berlitz must pay 100%.
Instructors are also getting only 60% kyugyo te-ate furlough allowance at English conversation school Nova. Many teachers are treated not even as employees but rather as individual proprietors (in name only). So, this category of Nova teachers received no furlough allowance at all, putting enormous pressure on their household finances. Nova teachers are ordinarily paid 1,350 yen per 44-minute lesson. The 60% works out to just 810 yen. Barely able to make Tokyo’s minimum wage, even these employee teachers are finding it tough to get by. The General Support Union recruits Nova employees and has been striking since June for 100% payment and measures to avoid the san-mitsu three crowding conditions.

As globalization proceeds, more and more people attend language schools. You may think that foreign workers’ conditions in the language industry are better than other industries. You would be mistaken, as I explained in this piece.

We consumers must stop ignoring workers who are striking and raising their voices in order to make things better.