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 size of Japan’s workforce is expected to peak ? and start falling ? within the next 2 years. But many it’s not easy being gaijin in Japan.
Japan is hoping to boost foreign investment and tourism by promoting the country as a land of hospitality. However, institutional racism and the media’s tendency to blame foreigners for rising crime means many visitors find themselves less than welcome.
The IHT/Asahi Shimbun branch president Chie and two other branch members were recently dismissed as part of the newspaper’s continuing campaign against our union and their refusal to respect the basic labour rights of employees and the company’s legal obligations under Trade Union Law.
We had an exciting shuro seikyu, a formal written demand to be given work, to protest and refuse their unfair dismissals at Asahi Shimbun, demanding that the newspaper let our three members go back to work. The company refused, as we expected, but we will go back again on August 2nd and August 3rd. Daily delivery of shuro seikyu is an important part of fighting an unfair dismissal in Japan.
Our members were fired after refusing to sign a contract that calls for their termination after five years. The union has for years demanded they be given contracts and recognized as employees. The company calls them independent service providers, thus refusing to recognize their legal rights as employees.
Job security is a major issue for all foreign workers in Japan. A large delegation, like we had today, is a powerful display of union solidarity and clearly shows our intent to fight all the way to reinstate our members.
The government urgently needs to acknowledge that deep discrimination against minorities, Korean and Chinese residents and other foreigners exists in Japan, an independent investigator said Monday.
Doudou Diene, appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Commission in 2002 as special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, was in Japan for more than a week on a fact-finding mission.
As a way to prevent further racial discrimination, a national law must be enacted, Diene, from Senegal, told a news conference at the United Nations University in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.
Although Japan became a member of the U.N. International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1995, it has yet to establish a national law to prevent discrimination.
Over 15 members showed up Saturday morning for the second Interac demonstration. We played music (“You can’ get me cuz I’m in the union…”) and spoke for about 30 minutes, passing out our mark II Interac dispute newsletter.
We set the bullhorn again on the hillock opposite the company. Hundreds of students (probably on their way to Hosei University) passed by and the vast majority took flyers. We also took several poses, including a “j’accuse” stance with us all extending our arms and pointing to the Interac office in imitation of the Memphis balcony in the seconds after Martin Luther King’s assassination.
The day was hot but fun overall. Again the cops came (only one actually) and very politely asked us if we had a labor dispute and how long we would be. After we answered him, he left quietly.
Each Saturday morning Interac offers free Japanese lessons to ALTs at HQ. So we were right back out there Saturday morning with our posters and fliers – this time 17 members. We figured surely Interac wouldn’t cancel an entire class just to avoid the union’s demonstration. Again we had underestimated Interac’s cowardice.
We set the bullhorn facing the firm on a hillock across the road. We spoke our grievances to the morning passers-by. We played an inspiring union song on a CD player that kept flaking out.
Three cops approached and began speaking to Yoko-the only Japanese member of our party. I stepped in, anticipating the usual official harassment. To my surprise, they were polite–even gracious. They asked us two questions: one, “Is this a labor-management dispute?”, and two, “How long will your demo last?” They were quite satisfied with our answers and casually strolled off back up the road.
GS Samantha made a stirring, personal speech, closing with an appeal to Interac to listen to us: “Kiite kudasai.”
Then we sent branch members and guards up to the second floor office-cheering them on. Back down the delegation reported that Interac staff were gone. We felt flattered that Interac would do us the great honor of showing their fear of us. Twice. We continued to pass out fliers accusing the Chairman, Seiichi Matsumoto, of wimpiness and breaking the law.
We finished off our 45-minute demo with a loud shprehicall and music.
This weekend was just the first step for our newest branch, but it was a big one.
Unable after weeks to get Interac and its slippery Chairman Seiichi Matsumoto to agree to talks…or even to talk…even on the phone, Nambu Interac Branch and several other Nambu activists went to Interac HQ in Iidabashi Friday evening to demand collective bargaining.
We knew Interac HQ operates until 9pm so arriving at 7pm gave us plenty of wiggle room. When we reached the building, however, it was all locked up and the inside lobby was dark. Interac shares the building with several other firms so we were perplexed.
Stepping back we could see lights on the second floor. We pressed the button on the night intercom. Rain was falling steadily.
“This is the Interac union. We’re here for collective bargaining.”
“I didn’t hear anything about it. They all went home already.”
“We can see lights on their floor.”
And so it went – me and an unseen gruff man bickering about the right to pass. He refused to budge and cut the connection. Most of us knew of Interac management’s breathtaking cowardice – but were they such scaredey cats that they would hide in their office till 9? We later learned that they were scareder still.
Concerned that they might use an escape route, we sent a couple of scouts around to scour the base of the building for alternative exits. Garrett found a locked door at the top of a dark stairs.
We were just about to post a sentry there with a cellfone when from the darkness of the lobby a face appeared. Through the locked door he explained how to get to the garage which has an entrance. Being paranoid by nature I left a guard at the door in case the instruction was a ruse to decoy us away from the front door while Interac management snuck out.
The rest of us made our way to the garage entrance where a guard sat behind a desk and window. I prepared to confront him but he hadn’t noticed us so with mouth still poised to speak we walked by.
“Wait a minute. I can’t let you pass,” said a familiar voice.
Our right of passage – not really what this phrase means – evolved into a full-fledged debate: Greg proved he was an employee by showing his gaitoh-shoh (foreign registration card); the guard demonstrated that Interac had split by letting the phone ring.
Heated debate gave way to negotiations. I said let us go up and check the second floor. The guard agreed on condition that one person alone go and that I agree not to disturb any other company.
When the elevator doors opened I saw that Interac was indeed closed for business. Everything was dark, locked and brand new signs said, “No unauthorized personnel!” in Japanese and English. The lights we had seen from outside were at the company next door.
Back down at the underground garage level I conceded to the guard that Interac had left. The guard then made an admission of his own: “Well, they usually work till 9 but this evening they were in quite a hurry to leave by 6. They even asked me to hold a package that was to be picked up after they left.” The guard even apologized for his arrogance. I apologized and explained our predicament. I left my calling card.
So the entire HQ staff of the nation’s largest ALT dispatcher skedaddled out of work three hours early to avoid talking to five of their employees. I realized that Interac’s savvy anti-union strategy had a name: Operation Run-For-The-Hills.
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.”