Japan Times staff strike over layoffs

Tozen Union and its Japan Times General Workers Union (JTGWU) chapter took strike action Wednesday as the paper threatened to lay off 39 staff, one third of the company’s workforce.

Negotiations had broken down after management failed to justify the necessity of the layoffs.

JTGWU fears the cuts will make The Japan Times unable to function as a news organization. Such irreparable damage to the 123-year-old institution would come at a time when its coverage, including that of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, is more important than ever. 

These cuts follow a voluntary redundancy program in spring 2020 that significantly reduced the newspaper’s workforce. JTGWU has 16 members, representing staff from across The Japan Times. The union set a July 17 deadline and implored The Japan Times’ management to postpone the layoffs for a month to give both parties enough time to negotiate. Management refused, preferring instead to rush through the mass layoff.

Gerome Rothman, Tozen organizer and the local’s case officer, said, “We’re shocked. The Japan Times and Tozen Union have a history of excellent labor relations.

“In Japan, an employer has the responsibility to do everything in its power to avoid even one layoff. Instead, The Japan Times has chosen to violate social norms, unilaterally deciding to turn a third of the company out into the street in the middle of a pandemic.”

Chris Russell, president of JTGWU, said, “Every member of the local is dedicated to the long-term success of The Japan Times. We believe that this success is, and will continue to be, driven by the company’s talented staff. It’s a major disappointment that the company doesn’t feel the same basic commitment to its employees, particularly given the excellent COVID-19 coverage everyone has produced in the past half year.”

Jane Kitagawa, an editor and writer, said, “Union members are upset that they have been forced into this position. They think the company has made a terrible decision to implement layoffs that are not in the best interests of the company, its readership or its staff.”

Media Contact:
Gerome Rothman
Tozen Union
Japan Times General Workers Union case officer

山本太郎から東ゼン労働組合への手紙 Letter from Yamamoto Taro to Tozen Union


Comrades of Tozen Union:  

I am Taro Yamamoto of the Reiwa Shinsen-Gumi. 


  You have given our political party so much passionate support on a near daily basis. Let me take this opportunity to express my heartfelt appreciation. Thank you. 


The novel coronavirus delayed your decennial convention and forced it online, reflecting, I think, the dire economic straights we find ourselves in, with the spread of the coronavirus not yet brought under control. Thank you for inviting me today, but I must apologize that party responsibilities prevent me from attending.  


   Tozen Union has many foreign language teachers and workers from overseas. I understand that you have done everything possible to help those who have lost their jobs to corona, are struggling to make ends meet, and cannot afford rent and loan payments. Workers in the age of corona must completely avoid sanmitsu – the three types of congestive environments: close contact, crowds, and poorly ventilated spaces. Foreign workers must have proper information on Japan’s kyugyo te-ate furlough allowance system, paid leave, and shobyo te-ate sick leave support, all provided in their native languages. 


With the impact of the novel coronavirus, 42% of foreigners said they need explanations of “government aid programs” more than any other information, according to a poll by a private company. This topped information on health and the coronavirus, cited by 32% of respondents. Aid programs abound; eligibility requirements are labyrinthian; but your union moves quickly to provide support those who encounter countless legal restrictions on their lives in Japan. The existence of your union is extremely important. 


 To improve working environments and conditions, we must raise the minimum wage. We must make the government set a national unified minimum hourly wage of 1,500 yen, as an economic policy to ensure job security. 


 On April 6, national party Reiwa Shinsengumi urged the government to cover workers’ wages, waive premium payments for Shakai Hoken health and pension, and to provide a moratorium on loan payments.  



  Although we have little political power, we are building a growing movement with all our comrades at Tozen Union. Please continue to share with us your wisdom and guidance. I, Taro Yamamoto, leader of Reiwa Shinsengumi, leave you with a heartfelt message of solidarity, wishing all Tozen Union members further success, health and happiness.   


8 July 2020 


Reiwa Shinsengumi 

                            代表 山本 太郎 

Leader Taro Yamamoto 

シェーン英会話の労働紛争に関する記事 Articles on Labour Dispute with Shane English School

先日東ゼン労組シェーン支部が行った大規模ストライキや、労働紛争について、Shingetsu News AgencyとYahooニュースで取り上げられました。

English article by Shingetsu News Agency


Shane Workers Union’s recent strikes

You might have thought the Shane Workers Union (SWU) had gone quiet, or weren’t doing much over the lockdown, but the members were all quite active. Meetings went from a monthly thing to an almost weekly activity, and the fire in the members hearts was burning and growing.

The members were angry at Shane’s lack of decent guidance during the pandemic and angry at management’s refusal of collective bargaining(CB). The anger increased further when – after two months of refusal – management eventually met the union for CB on 15th June 2020, and offered little in the way of negotiation. The company even claimed that they didn’t even know the legal classification of the pay they gave us during the April and May lockdown.

Shane had decided that during the lockdown they would pay the workers 100% of their salary (woohoo!) as an advance (boo!) on future work. This goes against Article 17 of the Labour Standards Act, “Pay shall not be made for advanced work” and against the government’s appeals to employers to pay workers a full furlough. The government is providing financial assistance to employers to cover the costs of furloughing employees.

As the lockdown ended, the company stated that workers would have to make up 30+ days of work for free. To do this, the company unilaterally changed the working calendar with no negotiation with, or consent from, the workers, changing both training days and paid leave days to working days. This meant most workers would lose most of their holidays.

Shane also decided that the company would reclaim wages from the counselors (receptionists), horrifying them and teachers.  The union did what we could to help counselors and want to do more.

As the new working days that were once training days and holidays approached, workers became agitated and angry at the exploitation.
The week leading up to one of the first new working days Saturday, June 27th was filled with discussion and talks of how teachers could stop their work being exploited, and ourthe main response was “withhold your labour.”
This must have hit a certain spot with people, as on Thursday 25th June, 9 people took strike action, with 3 people joining the union through the strike.

These new members and older ones continued to respond to other workers’ frustrations at the company’s changes to the work calendar, by suggesting that they also take action.

The company sent out an “Agreement on Planned Paid Leave Addendum” for workplace representatives to sign on Friday 26th June. This addendum stated that the company would be able to change the paid leave schedule with 7 days notice, and that the company and employees would have to comply with the changes.
It meant that the company wanted the ability to change annual paid leave with no negotiation. Teachers were furious. 

All day Friday, Orren (President of the SWU) and Mizuho (Case Officer for the SWU) received strike proposals, some from old members and some from new recruits.
This culminated in an action on Saturday 27th June 2020 with 23 people striking across the company, including 11 people joining the union through strike action.

On Monday 29th June 2020, the company sent out a message with two options from which each teacher must choose. This circumvented any negotiation with the union:

  1. Go back to the old calendar, but pay back over 40% of your wages, and count the previous pay as a furlough.
  2. Continue with the new calendar, and keep 100% of what has already been paid, however ½ of the make-up days would be cut.

The SWU’s #1 strike demand at the moment is that the company furlough its workers during the lockdown at 100% with no obligation to make up the days.
So we cannot accept either of these offers, and the fight will continue.

In the letter containing the 2 proposed options, the company acknowledges Article 17 and Article 26 of the Labour Standards Act. They mention that Article 17 states that salary cannot be paid in advance, but say nothing else about it. Despite this being the action that Shane took.

Shane misrepresents Article 26 and makes it sound like they would have had to pay only 60% as a furlough, not that they would have had to pay at least 60%. They also claimed that paying 60% might have caused “severe financial difficulties” for staff, never letting slip that 60% is the minimum, or that the government offered Payroll Protection Program assistance to companies that furloughed their employees.

On Tuesday 30th of June, we managed another large strike action of 19 people, with one teacher joining the union through strike action. More schools closed for the day.

Today, on Wednesday 1st of July, we had our 2nd largest strike yet, with 22 people striking, 4 of which joined through striking. Once again, the company was unable to cover all of the strikers.

These large strike actions have doubled the size of the union, and all new members seem very motivated about how they can help the union going forwards to realise the demands.

The hard work of everyone over the past week has been incredible to see. It amazes what people can do when they unite for a cause.

The Shane Workers Union is not anti-company. We are not anti-work. We love our work. We just want to make this a workplace that everyone can be proud of. We look forward to negotiating with the company in the future.











  • 東ゼン労組の主任オルグ ジェローム・ロスマン

Shane Corporation and Covid 19

In March, April and May 2020, Shane Corp. took the decision to close schools in response to the novel coronavirus and the declaration of a state of emergency in Japan.

Under Japanese law and in line with social norms, companies across the country have been furloughing their employees and paying an allowance (kyugyou teate), or keeping their employees busy by implementing work from home policies.

Shane Corp. decided on an entirely different approach, and has not furloughed workers or had them work from home. Instead, Shane Corp. have paid an advance, and expects the workers to either pay back the wages received, or work unpaid overtime. In effect, Shane staff were paid nothing for the closures. The company took a position to change working hours and designated holidays without the consent of the workers. This unilateral imposition is most probably illegal.

The number of members in the Shane Workers Union continues to surge as many staff have finally lost patience, and are increasingly frustrated at what they see as poor treatment.

It is the position of SWU that Shane Corp. pay 100% furlough allowance for the school closures, without any obligation to pay back or work back the money. We are prepared to volunteer to work overtime as long as it’s paid as overtime.

We hope to negotiate a sensible outcome that is fair to the staff and allows the customers to make up the lessons they missed.

Corona related articles コロナ関連の記事

Preschool Proprietor Pearson KK flees union, labor commission, and accountability

Preschool* Proprietor Pearson KK flees union, labor commission, and accountability

*Hanegi International Pre-School and Tsukuba International Nursery School

 [Tokyo, June 12, 2020] Last December, Principal Hirokazu Nakamura informed parents and teachers that Hanegi International Pre-School (in Shimokitazawa) would close on February 16, 2020. In other words, teachers’ jobs would be gone in two months. 

“I was gobsmacked,” says Adam S, a Tozen Union member fighting to get his job back. “I had no idea the school was having any problems. Things were just humming along, and then suddenly this!”

Tozen Union sought collective bargaining (CB) with Pearson KK, the company that owns Hanegi International Pre-School and runs Tsukuba International Nursury School.  Nakamura ignored countless union faxes, emails, and phone calls trying to set up the CB session to negotiate Adam’s return. Pearson’s refusal violates the teachers’ and the union’s constitutional rights.

When Tozen sued Pearson in the Tokyo Labor Commission, the company wouldn’t take the labor commission’s phone calls. Nakamura refuses to face his employees and even his government. 

Then, the Covid-19 crisis arrived. “They turned us out into the street like garbage,” Adam added. “Used us and threw us out into this horrible pandemic. There’s no work.”

Maybe the company simply disappeared? Nope. Tsukuba International Nursery School rolled out a new website on April 17 and announced a new after-school program for their students on April 27. Pearson appears to be doing brisk business.

Without a defendant, the labor commission will issue a ruling in October 2020. Tozen Union will not give up the fight to bring burakku kigyo Pearson KK to the table, pay Adam S. his back wages, and take responsibility for its anti-social behavior during this terrible pandemic.

Tozen Union Senior Organizer Gerome Rothman 







Tozen Daigaku Japan’s Corona Aid Programs 東ゼン大学 コロナ助成金事業


On Sunday May 24 at 2pm, we are hosting our next Tozen Daigaku.  In this edition, we will  go over  Japan’s corona aid and visa programs, with a Q&A following the talk. Check it out on YouTube livestream!