Nova Corp said Friday it expects its group net balance to have fallen into the red in the business year through last March with a loss of 3 billion yen as a result of competition for student enrollment among its own schools. The major English conversation school operator had projected a 200 million yen profit for fiscal 2005. The projected net loss compares with the 204 million yen profit for fiscal 2004.
Nova rapidly increased the number of its schools by around 300 to 994 between October 2004 and March this year. The expansion has caused the company to employ inexperienced managers and suffer from competition among its own schools located close to each other.
All over Japan, companies are bracing for a demographic wave that will wash away many of their most experienced employees. The Japanese call it their “2007 problem.” Beginning next year, members of what Japan considers its baby boom generation will start hitting 60 and dropping out of the workforce. Some might postpone retirement, but they can’t work forever. Plunging birth rates mean there won’t be nearly enough young people to replace them.
Japan is just beginning to wrestle with a more controversial solution to the labor shortage: opening the floodgates to immigration.
Foreign workers account for just 1% of Japan’s labor force, vs. about 15% in the USA. Japan relaxes visa requirements for engineers and other specialized workers. But it is reluctant to let less-skilled workers into the country, limiting them to two- or three-year “training” contracts if it admits them at all.
“Sooner or later, we will need more people,” says Hidenori Sakanaka, retired head of the national immigration bureau office in Tokyo. “This is the time to create a new immigration policy.”
Sakanaka, the former immigration official, says Japanese bureaucrats are in denial. After retiring from his government job, he set up the Japan Immigration Policy Institute to advocate more liberal policies. He made what he admits is a utopian proposal: Admit 20 million foreigners in the next 50 years, up from less than 2 million now.
“Look at the speed of the decline in population. It’s unbelievable. Thirty million people will disappear,” he says. “There are two ways to go: Shrunken Japan ? and learning to live with it; and Big Japan ? we accept foreigners.”
“A lot of people see the advertisements ? and think it will be like schoolroom teaching and lots of fun, but when you get here it is more like doing factory line work,” he says. “The whole teaching-English-in-Japan thing is a complete fraud and the experience can be quite bitter.”
But for anyone set on working in Japan, the Nova language school should be the last option, he says.
Most people, when they first arrive, work at a place like Nova, probably the biggest employer of native English teachers in the world. By dint of their overseas recruiting programme, NO-VAcation (as we called it when I worked there) is the first employer for many arriving in Japan. But even this has changed. Recently, after a long struggle with the local General Union, it was forced to provide its full-time teachers with health, pension and unemployment benefits.
English language conversation school operator Nova Co. illegally billed a student when it refused to refund her the full price she had paid for classes she didn’t take, the Kyoto District Court ruled. Presiding Judge Mizuho Ebi ordered Nova to pay the student the 176,672 yen she had sought when suing the company.
Flash Demo at Berlitz Omiya Branch
Teachers Disciplined For Trivial Reasons
The disrequest system at Berlitz is just one example of threats to job security faced by teachers in the eikaiwa industry. HR representatives claim that a pattern of complaints concerning any particular instructor can lead to discipline, and that six to eight official disrequests over a period of two years is enough to constitute a pattern.
Given that teachers may meet hundreds of students and teach thousands of lessons over the period of a year, added to the fact that complaints can be based on anything from the teacher?s facial expression (?she didn?t smile?) to completely subjective judgements (?we weren?t a good match?), the unfairness of this standard is immediately apparent.
The union cannot allow teachers to face discipline, and potential threats to their livelihood, based on such standards. BEGUNTO will continue to fight for job security both at Berlitz, and throughout the industry.
Across the Tokyo region, Berlitz language teachers are striking. Members of the Begunto Union, the Berlitz teachers’ union in the Tokyo region of Japan, are striking against management actions regarding a pay freeze and introduction of new work contracts they see as less than satisfactory.
The evening edition of the Asahi Shimbun carried a story by Ari Hirayama about a nationwide probe of 750 language schools suspected of not enrolling foreign teachers in shakai hoken (employee pension and health scheme), not only on the front page but as the top story. It even beat out Saddam Hussein’s indictment. Bob Tench, president of our Nova branch, was quoted before Berlitz’s personnel chief Masanori Iwai. Nova public relations department was quoted as saying they couldn’t get ahold of the person in charge of that issue.
Bob Tench, president of the Nova Teachers’ Union, argues that Nova’s attempts to “wriggle out of its obligations” under the insurance system, could leave teachers, particularly those with families, in an dangerous position should they become ill while working for the company and have to take time off work.
“Most teachers aren’t even aware of their health options here, and they’re unaware of the risks they’re taking by not enrolling in the system,” he says.
“Comparing teachers’ work time to that of their bosses is in clear breach of the law,” says Louis Carlet, deputy general secretary of the General Workers’ Union, Tokyo South.
“The law is clear,” he says, “that to be eligible for shakai hoken, your hours must be 75 percent of a full-time person doing the same job as you. The bosses in these schools are clearly not doing the same job.”
Bob Tench, president of the Nova Union, says that Nova’s failure to enroll its teachers while offering JMA insurance is irresponsible.
“This JMA insurance is only designed to ‘patch you up and ship you home,’ ” he says. “JMA is travel insurance and should not be used for everyday health care.
“The government and the teachers are being ripped off,” he says.