In has been a long road since Berlitz unilaterally set out to solve a problem that the General Union has long complained about.
Like many other companies, Berlitz has never paid teachers for the time they spend working between lessons.
While teachers have been compensated for their teaching time, the company failed to understand that this time is often used for preparing things, such as planning their next lesson, preparing textbooks, writing reports, and discussing issues with other teachers and members of staff.
To that end, the General Union argued that this was actually work that needed to be paid for, and not "free time" in which the teacher could do whatever they wanted.
However, in October of 2014, the company suddenly and unexpectedly reversed their stance towards this issue, unilaterally deciding that, instead of acknowledging the problem, it would instead draw up plans to compensate all teachers for this previously unpaid preparation time, and would go over the head of the union in order to do so.
While their decision to snub the union's involvement in this was suspicious, it is important to understand that had this proposal been in everyone's best interests, then everyone - including the General Union - would have been happy with the end result.
Of course, that's not what happened.
The company's plan was this: while giving something to placate teachers with one hand, it would take as much away with the other ("Don't Give Berlitz A Free Ride - Organize!").
Part-time teachers (colloquially known as "per lesson" teachers, due to their schedules being decided on a day-to-day basis) would have stood to lose the most from this "new deal", with Berlitz set to make massive claw-backs through the benefits that the plan would have granted them, including an end to paying salary during national holidays, a transportation allowance to replace the lump system which most teachers currently benefit from, and other miscellaneous cuts.
After all of these cuts and detractions, the actual salary increase that teachers would have seen through being paid for their "preparation time" would have been negligible at best.
However, union members and the teachers that they stand with are not so easily fooled, and would not let such a "pyrrhic victory" come to pass without a fight.
Within weeks of Berlitz announcing its new plan, the General Union laid out a plan of organization that would see the size of its Berlitz Branch more than triple in size.
These were not frightened, cowering teachers who bolstered the branch's numbers, either - they almost immediately voted to put their branch on strike footing, and sent a clear strike deadline that it expected the company to take heed of ("New Berlitz Branch Officers Send Out Notice For Strike Vote").
In short, the Berlitz Branch of the General Union was not ready to be messed around.
This is the point at which the company's unilateralism fell flat on its face, and the real negotiations began to take place ("On A Roll At Berlitz").
It took almost a year, but we are very proud to announce that the member's solidarity won the day, once again proving the power that a strong union can have.
Without going into great detail (please send us an e-mail if you want to know the specifics), here is what our union action resulted in:
• A ¥90 per lesson increase for "Per Lesson" teachers, equalling a raise of between 3.5% and 4%.
• A 10% lesson reduction for contracted (guaranteed salary) teachers, with no change in pay (equating to less work for the same pay, therefore covering the five minute "preparation time" gap).
• An increase in overtime rates / out-of-contract rates for all classes of employees.
• Easier Shakai Hoken enrolment conditions, as well as easier conditions to receive things such as special paid leave and sick days.
• An established grievance procedure, with disciplinary action being deferred if the union submits a grievance prior to any disciplinary action taking place.
• A "dues check off" agreement. A "dues check off" agreement is an extremely powerful tool for the union, as it makes it very easy for people to join and pay their dues directly from their salary, thereby increasing the strength of the union as a whole. (Berlitz consistently refused to make this concession until the very end.)
• A strike notice agreement, in which the union agrees to give around eleven hours notice prior to any strike actions. While some may say that such an arrangement weakens the union, we believe that it's basically a guarantee from the company that it will recognise our strikes and prevent interference.
Are there things that we didn't win? Of course. Diplomacy is all about give and take, and some concessions have to be made for the greater good.
However, in the end, our members believed that what was being presented was a strong agreement that gave credibility to, and paved the foundation for, future negotiations with the company.
Although we failed to win retroactive compensation for all of the unpaid "preparation time" that occurred prior to this agreement, most members believed that this was a minor concession compared to what was being gained (better the pay rise that keeps on giving).
While we were able to attain a lesson reduction for contract teachers, we were not able to win the major pay increase that some contract teachers had hoped for. This does not mean that the issue is dead and buried, however, and it is something that the General Union hopes to conduct bargaining on in the near future.
The most important lesson that we can take away from this is that, when we had a strong base of members willing to take action and fight for what they believed in, we were able to swiftly solve a multitude of problems that the General Union had previously been dealing with for many years.
The goal, from this point onwards, is to build on this victory and continue to change things for the better - not just at Berlitz, but across the industry as a whole; an industry which often robs people of their basic right to be paid for the work that they do in the preparation time that is vital to their ability to effectively do their job and provide an excellent service to their students.
Now that we have demonstrated what can be accomplished when we stand in unison, why don't you come and stand with us and help change things for the better? Not just for you and your colleagues, but for all future teachers who expect to be treated fairly and respectfully by their company for the work that they provide, too.
If you're concerned about similar issues at your place of employment, or you have other concerns that you feel a strong union might be able to resolve, feel free to contact the General Union at:
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