SNA (Tokyo) — “Japan is safer than other countries; the Japanese are kind; the streets are clean; and it’s easy to live here.” I hear foreigners say these things. But I also hear it from Japanese who have never lived abroad. The mainstream media’s Nippon Sugoi! campaign is working, perhaps, but it’s not far off from the nation’s general reputation. But read on: The current reality may blow your image of my country to smithereens. Can such a thing be happening in Japan in 2021?
A new Tozen Union local called TWIST (Tokyo West International School Tozen) held a protest on the afternoon of Tuesday March 9 at Tokyo West International School. Teachers at this Hachioji, Tokyo school gathered to protest the recent unfair dismissals of union members. They had declared their new union in late January of 2021, because many worked overtime without pay, lacked breaks, had fewer days of paid leave, and faced a general lack of support and disorganization in the workplace.
The union had just one collective bargaining session with management before the school decided to dismiss several members on February 19.
“We had a great meeting with management explaining our demands,” one member said. “We were open, honest and thought management had listened to our concerns. We wanted to work together to improve our work environment. Now we feel disappointed that many of our members were dismissed in retaliation for forming a union. Management rejected our pleas to reverse the dismissals before the March 8th deadline we set. We want to make others aware of the situation. Talented teachers are being dismissed without cause, and we want to prevent that from happening now and in the future.”
TWIST members struck during the protest and handed out flyers explaining what the school is doing and why the union is protesting. The flyer also included a link to the Tozen Union website (tokyogeneralunion.org) and Twitter page handle. During the action, TWIST Executive President Taylor Healy shouted through a megaphone: “TWIS has taken unethical and unjust action against union members. TWIS admin are attempting to union bust. This misconduct must be stopped. Reinstate union members. Save our teachers!” Before and during the protest, management asked union members to stop striking and leafleting, and redirected students away from members.
Parents approached union members, expressed their support in the movement and wished them luck. Teachers received many supportive messages from non-union staff members at the school as well as from students and parents. TWIST union is glad to see the message of injustice against teachers coming across and to receive so much encouragement. However, members see a long fight ahead of them.
After the protest, parents received an email from management stating, “We firmly believe that our school has been taking sincere actions, and we continue to work to peacefully resolve any concerned matters.” Management is stonewalling on holding collective bargaining with the union, and we have yet to receive a written response to demands. The day after the protest, management sent an email to all staff members of the school, apparently directed at staff who did not protest. The message offered teachers free tapioca tea in appreciation. There is no amount of tea they can offer that will make up for the unfair dismissals. Reinstate our members. Negotiate with the union.
SNA (Tokyo) — A Japanese court overturned a welfare reduction for the first time ever on February 22, 2021. The Osaka District Court ruled against the government’s 2013 public assistance reduction of ¥67 billion (US$632 million), marking the first court win for the Inochi no Toride litigation campaign, involving more than 1,000 plaintiffs in 29 prefectures around Japan.
Attorney Tetsuro Kokubo, deputy head of the defense team, said, “This is the first time in my long career as a lawyer that I cried when I heard the verdict.” The comment poignantly conveys the challenges of fighting state power.
Employees of publisher and language training company ALC Press Inc. unionized last June after management pressured them to switch to part-time zero-hour contracts with no social benefits.
Since May 2020, ALC placed employees on required furlough on certain days each month, paying them reduced wages as per Article 26 of the Labor Standards Act. Although the publisher continues to operate business as usual, it has targeted workers in its domestic language and other departments who had refused to downgrade their working conditions, including switching to non-fixed, zero-hour contracts.
“I’m working exactly the same hours as I was in 2019, if not more, but management are still deducting my salary,” said one long-serving employee.
Required leave has been in effect since May 2020 and there is no foreseeable end. Management has also begun to refuse to renew certain fixed-term contracts.
ALC employees, some of whom served the company for over 25 years are, in their words, “shocked, disgusted, disturbed, and saddened” by what they once considered a family company. A union was formed in Tozen Union to stop to what they believe to be illegal forced furloughs. In some cases, certain employees have lost close to 1 million yen from their salaries since the forced furloughs began.
Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union ALC Union (全国一般東京ゼネラルユニオンALC 支部) was established with just three members in June 2020 but has since more than quintupled in less than six months. Management do not have the interests of their employees at heart and only care about making a big, fat profit, even at the cost of financially devastating their workers, many of whom have young families and mortgages and are desperately struggling to make ends meet.
The company management has changed ownership and management several times over the past few years.
ALC’s website states, “ALC bring out the best in each employee, regardless of gender, age, or experience. We also endeavor to create an environment that makes it easy for everyone to work and continue working at each career stage. ALC also promotes the careers of its female employees.”
It’s time to hold ALC to its pledge.
We, ALC Union, appeal to all ALC employees who feel isolated, worried and concerned to get in touch with us – regardless of your contract, experience, position/job or nationality. This union is for everyone. Our goal is solidarity and to unite all ALC employees to ‘continue working at each career stage’ without the fear of management taking away our livelihoods and driving us out of the company.
If ALC’s new management do not agree or at least compromise with union demands, industrial action may have to take place.
To all ALC employees: We encourage you to get in touch with us before it is too late for you. Contact ALC Union case officer Gerome Rothman at email@example.com
Tozen Daigaku – Yukimuki and Job Security in Japan
Fixed-term or temporary employment is called yuki-koyo (有期雇用); while open-ended or permanent employment is called muki-koyo (無期雇用).
Tozen organizer Louis Carlet will explore the legal and practical angles of these two types of employment; their implications for job security; the relevant case law; and how we should fight for job security.