GESS Who Just Got Sued?

Last Friday at the Tokyo Labor Commission, Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union sued executive search firm GESS International for Unfair Labor Practices under the Labor Union Act (Act No. 174 of June 1, 1949) for repeatedly refusing collective bargaining with the union.

(Unfair Labor Practices)

Article 7. The employer shall not commit the acts listed in any of the following items:

(ii) to refuse to bargain collectively with the representatives of the workers employed by the employer without justifiable reasons

Are you working for or being headhunted by GESS International? Only if you are are a member of a trade union do you have the legal right to collectively bargain with your employer to improve your working conditions.

Join the union today!

Lawyer putting foreigners first

Goal to provide access to legal advice for all

Masako Suzuki has dedicated her career to giving legal support to foreigners living in Japan. Starting Monday, she will become the first head of the new Section of Legal Assistance for Foreigners at the Tokyo Public Law Office.

The section will specialize in giving legal advice to foreign residents on both criminal and civil cases, ranging from refugee assistance and visa applications to divorces and labor issues.

“With the diversification of nationalities of foreigners in Japan, legal service has become limited,” Suzuki said. “Foreigners living in Japan are also members of society supporting the country, and they must not be left behind.”

Suzuki also serves as secretary general of the Lawyers Network for Foreigners, a group of 833 lawyers nationwide working on various issues related to foreigners that was founded in May 2009. And the setup of the new legal section at the Tokyo Public Law Office is a part of their activity to increase the number of lawyers specializing in foreigners’ issues as well as improving the quality of their legal service.

Commemorating the new division, free legal consultations will be available for foreigners on Sunday at the Tokyo Public Law Office. With the assistance of the Center for Multilingual Multicultural Education and Research at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, the service on that day will be available in 13 languages including Japanese, English, French, Spanish, Burmese, Thai and Mandarin.

Meanwhile, at the new department, languages the lawyers themselves can directly communicate in include English, Japanese and Korean, but the office will provide interpreters for other languages if and when necessary.

“One of the major reasons why lawyers are reluctant to take on cases involving foreigners is the language barrier,” Suzuki said. “We’d eventually like to be able to put together a list of interpreters to provide the information” to lawyers.

The attorney said the general attitude toward accepting foreigners in Japan has become more negative now since the Justice Ministry launched a five-year campaign in 2004 to reduce the number of illegal foreign residents by half.

“Japan has become more exclusive against foreigners recently,” Suzuki said. “There is no way that I can say Japan has become an easier place to live in than before.”

But with the low birthrate and aging society, the government has acknowledged the need to bring in foreigners.

Suzuki, however, pointed out that Japan has no fundamental policy on foreigners. “I think we are in a critical state because the government knows that the country needs foreigners but has yet to establish a clear policy,” Suzuki said. “Japan needs to squarely face the issues of foreigners in Japan — without it, there is no globalization or anything beyond.”

Free legal consultations for foreigners will be available Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Tokyo Public Law Office, Ikebukuro SIA Building 2F 1-34-5 Higashi-Ikebukuro, Toshimaku, Tokyo. Call (03) 5979-2880 or visit

Japan’s 1st legal assistance office for foreigners to launch in Nov.

A legal office in Tokyo will set up next week a new section specializing in providing legal assistance to foreign residents in Japan, focusing on individual needs of foreigners, the office said Monday.

The Tokyo Public Law Office will launch the section on Nov. 1, in the first such attempt by a bar association in Japan to offer legal services for individual foreigners who have limited access to lawyers because of the language barrier, lack of information and cultural differences, it said.

Although there are many multinational law offices in Japan, they mainly cater to corporations and business clients, the office said, adding that lawyers in Japan also tend to hesitate to take the cases involving individual foreigners, as many cases require detailed knowledge of the immigration law and laws outside Japan.

The public law office was established in 2002 with assistance from the Tokyo Bar Association to conduct various pro-bono activities. It said the new section is in response to rising needs for legal assistance from more than 2 million foreign residents in Japan.

Although the new section will provide legal access to residents in Tokyo and around, it will work in close cooperation with the Lawyers Network for Foreigners, a nationwide network of lawyers handling foreign cases, to reach out to residents living outside of Tokyo as well, the office said.

The new section will offer a free legal consultation by about 30 lawyers next Sunday between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. at its office in Tokyo’s Toshima Ward and via telephone in Japanese, English, Korean, French, Spanish and Chinese.

On-site consultation, which requires telephone reservation at 03-5979-2880, is also provided in Portuguese, Indonesian, Bengali, Thai, Tagalog and Burmese on Sunday.

Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union Sues Max Ali For Unfair Labor Practices

Today at the Tokyo Labor Commission, Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union sued Max Ali (AKA Muhammed Ali Muhammed Mustafa, Japan Advanced Labor Agency, et alii) for Unfair Labor Practices under the Labor Union Act (Act No. 174 of June 1, 1949) for repeatedly refusing collective bargaining with the union and for failing to pay wages to a union member.

(Unfair Labor Practices)

Article 7. The employer shall not commit the acts listed in any of the following items:

(i) to discharge or otherwise treat in a disadvantageous manner a worker by reason of such worker’s being a member of a labor union, having tried to join or organize a labor union, or having performed justifiable acts of a labor union; or to make it a condition of employment that the worker shall not join or shall withdraw from a labor union. However, where a labor union
represents a majority of workers employed at a particular factory or workplace, this shall not preclude an employer from concluding a collective agreement which requires, as a condition of employment, that the workers shall be members of such labor union;

(ii) to refuse to bargain collectively with the representatives of the workers employed by the employer without justifiable reasons;

Also see: Tozen ALTs Sue Muhammed Ali Muhammed Mustafa For Unpaid Wages

Are you an ALT working for Max Ali (AKA Muhammed Ali Muhammed Mustafa), Japan Advanced Labor Agency, or Japan Advanced Labor Staff Services (AKA JALSS)? Only if you are are a member of a trade union do you have the legal right to collectively bargain with your employer to improve your working conditions. Join Tozen ALTs today!

Talks drag on, teachers fired in Berlitz case

After 20 months of legal wrangling, neither side has managed to snag a win in Berlitz Japan‘s ¥110 million lawsuit against five teachers and their union, Begunto.

On the recommendation of the case’s lead judge, the company and union have been in court-mediated reconciliation talks since December. The agreement to enter the talks came after a year of court hearings into the suit.

“The vast, vast majority of cases (in Japan) are decided out of court, and that’s the way the whole thing is designed,” explains lawyer Timothy Langley, president of Langley Enterprise K.K., a consultancy specializing in labor issues. “It works even though it’s frustrating; people eventually define the solution themselves.”

Louis Carlet, one of the union officials being sued, describes progress at the once-a-month, 30-minute negotiating sessions as “glacially slow.”

It will be up to the judge to decide how long to let this process play out, says Tadashi Hanami, professor emeritus at Sophia University and former chair of the Central Labor Relations Commission. “Talks for the purpose of conciliatory settlement will continue as long as the judge finds there is a possibility for settlement by compromise.”

The current focus of negotiations is the amount of notice union members should give the company ahead of industrial action. Initially, Berlitz Japan offered to drop their lawsuit if teachers gave a week’s notice before striking. Begunto proposed five minutes. Since teachers typically only learn the next day’s schedule the night before, the judge instructed the company to come up with a better offer.

Asked how much notice unions legally have to give before striking, Langley replied, “None. Zero. That’s one of the beauties of a strike: You just strike.”

In the latest round of talks held Thursday, Berlitz Japan requested contract teachers give strike notification by 3 p.m. the day before, and per-lesson teachers by 5 p.m. Begunto pointed out to the judge that per-lesson teachers don’t receive their schedule until 6 p.m. the day before. Union executives have taken the offer back to members for consideration.

The battle between Berlitz Japan and Begunto began with a strike launched Dec. 13, 2007, as Berlitz Japan and its parent company, Benesse Corp., were enjoying record profits. Teachers, who had gone without an across-the-board raise for 16 years, struck for a 4.6-percent pay hike and a one-month bonus. The action grew into the largest sustained strike in the history of Japan’s language school industry, with more than 100 English, Spanish and French teachers participating in walkouts across Kanto.

On Dec. 3, 2008, Berlitz Japan claimed the strike was illegal and sued for a total of ¥110 million in damages. Named in the suit were the five teachers volunteering as Begunto executives, as well as two union officials: the president of the National Union of General Workers Tokyo Nambu, Yujiro Hiraga , and Carlet, former NUGW case officer for Begunto and currently executive president of Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union (Tozen).

While believing their strike to be legal, Begunto decided to suspend industrial action until the lawsuit is settled rather than risk the dismissal of union members. However, the company fired two of the teachers it’s suing anyway.

One, who didn’t want to be named, received word of his dismissal just before shipping out to Afghanistan as a U.S. Army reservist at the end of July 2009. Berlitz Japan had allowed the teacher to take unpaid leave for military duty several times before the strike. But after being the only teacher at his Yokohama branch to walk out, he began getting complaints from students.

According to Begunto members, after being ordered to deploy to Afghanistan, Berlitz Japan told the teacher he could take a leave of absence of less than a year, and that he’d have to quit if he needed more than a year. Two days before he left for Afghanistan the company fired him. According to the dismissal letter, his performance was subpar and was hurting the company’s image.

“The union believes strongly that the teacher’s dismissal was because he was the only striker at Yokohama,” says Carlet.

Another of the teachers named in the suit, Catherine Campbell, was fired earlier this month after taking too long to recover from late-stage breast cancer cancer. In June 2009, Campbell took a year of unpaid leave to undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Because Berlitz Japan failed to enroll Campbell in the shakai hoken health insurance scheme, she was unable to receive the two-thirds wage coverage it provides and had to live with her parents in Canada during treatment. The company denied Campbell’s request to extend her leave from June to Sept. 2010 and fired her for failing to return to work.

Berlitz Japan work rules allow for leave-of-absence extensions where the company deems it necessary.

“If cancer is not such a case, what would be?” Campbell asks. “On one hand, I’m lucky to be alive and healthy enough to even want to go back to work, so everything else pales in comparison,” she explained. “But on the other, the company’s decision does seem hard to understand. The leave is unpaid, and I don’t receive any health benefits, so it wouldn’t cost Berlitz anything to keep me on; and for me, it’s that much harder to restart my life without a job.”

Michael Mullen, Berlitz Japan senior human resources manager, declined to comment for this article, writing in an e-mail, “At the current time the company does not want to make any comments due to the ongoing legal dispute.”

The union is fighting both dismissals at the Tokyo Labor Commission. The panel is also hearing an unfair labor practices suit filed by Begunto that charges Berlitz Japan bargained in bad faith and illegally interfered with the strike by sending a letter to teachers telling them the strike was illegal and to stop walking out.

The next round of reconciliation talks and Tokyo Labor Commission hearing are both scheduled for Sept. 6.

Tozen ALTs Sue For Unpaid Wages

Yesterday, seven Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union ALT branch members sued Japan Advanced Labor Agency head (and JALSS Representative Director) Muhammed Ali Muhammed Mustafa (AKA Max Ali) at Tokyo District Court for a combined amount of 1,943,760 yen in unpaid wages and transportation expenses contractually owed the members while they worked for Muhammed Ali Muhammed Mustafa at the Funabashi City and Saitama City Boards of Education. Union lawyer Ken Yoshida asks the court for a provisional injunction and includes a claim for interest also to be paid at a rate of 6% yearly on top the unpaid wages.

This lawsuit is in addition to the breach of contract suit already in progress at Tokyo District Court with Muhammed Ali Muhammed Mustafa with a claim approaching 3,000,000 yen from another Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union Tozen ALT member. The member previously won a favorable judgement for this claim against Mr. Mustafa at the Rodo Shimpan Labor Tribunal.

Are you an Assistant Language Teacher?

Are you unable to make ends meet because of unpaid wages, unpaid transportation expenses and dubiously documented pay deductions?

Join Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union Tozen ALTs and help us build a union at your company and BOE.

RCS ALTs Declared to Management

Today, RCS members of the Tozen ALT Branch historically declared their union membership to RCS management and submitted a list of nine demands along with a call to the company to begin collective bargaining talks with Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union on June 30, 2010 [rescheduled for July 16th, 2010 at company request].

The demands include:

Working Condition Demands 規範的部分 Kihanteki Bubun

1. Company eliminate temporary employment status for all members and recognize open-ended employment with no degradation to working conditions in order to give members job security.

2. Company eliminate piecemeal wages and institute monthly guarantees for all union members with no degradation to working conditions.

3. Company enroll all union members in unemployment insurance on the assumption of continued employment.

4. Company pay the actual transportation costs for the commute to and from work to all union members.

Are you an ALT working for RCS?

Do you want to improve the working conditions of yourself and other teachers? Take the first step towards improving your quality of life by joining the Tokyo General Union today!

Kanagawa PFT Petition

A petition addressed to the Kanagawa Prefectural Assembly, the Governor of Kanagawa Prefecture, and the Kanagawa Board of Education is being circulated by a group of concerned citizens in support of the teachers dismissed by the Kanagawa Board of Education last April, and calls for the return to direct-hiring in the schools. A copy of the petition can be downloaded from the website. To add your name, please download the petition, print it out, and, after signing it, return to the address indicated in the petition info section of the website.