"In twenty years of negotiating with employers all around Japan, I have never seen a company that holds their own employees - the economic engine of their own company - in such contempt. Most employers at least have the decency to pay lip service and offer hollow respect."
Dennis Tesolat (General Union Chair)
In January of this year, union members from the General Union and Tokyo Roso working at ECC all across Japan submitted demands to their employer to improve pay and other working conditions.
No company ever starts off with giving in to all union demands - but what we are currently witnessing at ECC is a full assault on the union and its members.
THE JANUARY 15TH COLLECTIVE BARGAINING SESSION
Just walking into the room, you could see that ECC management was lining up against the union.
Fourteen managers from Kinki, Chubu, and Tokyo gathered in the company office to face off with us as we submitted our demands:
Demands For Pay Rises
In a nutshell, ECC's response to this demand was that union members are one-year contract workers and, therefore, are not on par with the regular (permanent) employees.
While latter will be eligible for pay rises, the vast majority of union members - full-timers working in the main language school (Gaigo) - will NOT get a pay increase.
Regular employees work for ECC which, as a whole, is doing well - but Gaigo teachers work ONLY for Gaigo, which is not doing well.
Basically, they are dumping all of the bad management decisions, problems with lessons and materials, and every other factor which has hurt Gaigo’s profitability, onto the shoulders of the one-year contract teachers.
The narrative that ECC is trying to spin is that it's the fault of union members that Gaigo is failing; that THEY, NOT management, should pay for the price for that failure.
Demands For Equality In Paid And Special Leave
This "screw you" attitude was echoed in all the other demands, too.
The clear implication is that one-year contract workers are disposable and, therefore, not eligible for things like paid leave for special periods (weddings, funerals, etc) and use of half-day paid leave. In addition, if these contract-workers are sick for over thirty days, they get fired - unlike regular employees, who can take as much leave as necessary.
The worst part is that ECC will not change their attitude.
However, more importantly, they are now lining up to try to smash the union and create an environment where contract workers have no voice.
If they win, you can forget about decent working conditions, future pay increases, and fairness, FOREVER.
GENERAL UNION AND TOKYO ROSO SUE ECC
In response to this new era of petulance and overt disdain, the unions have decided to bring the fight to ECC rather than wait for ECC to strike first.
On Monday, February 20th, the union sued ECC at the Osaka Prefectural Labour Commission over unfair labour practices.
Not only has ECC refused all of the union demands, but they have committed multiple unfair labour practices (interference in the activity of the union and the right to a union) - just another reason why we know that they're trying to squeeze the union out of ECC.
An ECC branch executive officer has been specifically targeted by the company for harassment because of union-related facebook posts, had his hours cut by almost 30%, been removed from a coordinator's position, and has not been hired as one of the 'new trainers' despite having over 25 years of experience (experience which makes him uniquely qualified for the position).
ECC suddenly and unfairly stopped allowing the General Union to perform an introduction and information session with new hires in violation of an agreement existing to allow us to do so.
Since July in Kansai and December in Kanto, ECC has stopped paying the rent on the union offices (as has been the custom at ECC since the regular employee's company union has an office on ECC premises).
The suddenness of the unions jointly filing this case has put ECC on notice that we aren't just going to sit back and let them do whatever they want.
While they say fight, we say: "LET'S PARITY!!"
That's not a misspelling - we are demanding parity.
In recent years, the Japanese government has passed many laws and guidelines demanding parity between regular and contract employees.
ECC argues that the jobs aren’t exactly the same, so there is no need for such equality.
Our argument is that since contract jobs are the ones that actually bring money into ECC, such workers are just as important as regular employees and deserve equal rights.
In reaction to the company's deterioration to fight the union and continue to treat one-year employees unfairly, the executive committee has added new demands explicitly demanding parity in working conditions and union rights.
These demands are:
A "Union Shop" Agreement
Such an agreement means that all the employees must join the union. Regular employees at ECC currently have such a "shop" while contract workers do not.
The office rent and the orientation agreements were to make up for this, but since they’ve taken it away, we'll demand more - we'll demand equality.
Equal Benefits For Contract Workers
We demand that all workers receive the same kinds of benefits (bonuses, leave, allowances, etc.) regardless of contract type. Contract workers are important to the company and shouldn’t have to work for a company that treats them like second-class citizens.
If ECC wants to discriminate, we'll counter it by demanding equality.
That ECC Negotiate With The Union Over The "Article 36 Agreement"
Article 36 states that an agreement must exist between an existing trade union, or a representative of the majority of the workers, to allow for employees to work overtime in excess of 40 hours.
This does not affect most of our current members; but staff members, HQ staff, etc. regularly work over 40 hours a week. This will give us a good chance to recruit one-year contract staff and appeal for improvements in their working conditions, too.
If the company tries to divide us, we'll work harder to improve working conditions for teachers AND staff.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Our members will not be intimidated by the company's hostile tactics.
The union's demands are not unreasonable. With the government's guidelines towards fairness for non-regular workers, PARITY is the key (which you can read about in this article).
Many members have worked for many years at the company, showing dedication and a desire to do this job and be respected for their hard work.
Why shouldn't they be treated as such?
What makes a worker who has been at the company for 10 to 20 years less worthy of respect for their time than the regular permanent employees?
We have no dispute with the regular employees, but demand that our members' hard work is also recognised and rewarded.
We will try all that is possible to avoid having to resort to future strikes, but the union does want everyone to know of the seriousness of these events.
ECC wants members out of the union; it wants the the union out of ECC. Such an outcome will make it impossible to defend against deteriorating working conditions in the future.
We can't let that happen.