ALTInsider Interview With The General Union (Podcast)

Back in December (2016), the General Secretary of the General Union sat down (over Skype) with James Winovich, creator of ALTinsider.com, for a rare podcast interview.

If you're interested in the circumstances behind how our secretariat became involved in union activism, how the General Union operates, or various other tidbits of union information and trivia, be sure to give the podcast (embedded below the fold) a listen!

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The Myth of Low Cost Dispatching [Op-Ed]

One of the biggest arguments for the continued existence of dispatch companies (such as Altia Central, Interac, Joytalk, and Heart Corporation) is that it is "too expensive" for boards of education to directly hire people. The contention often goes that direct hire is a luxury that only the richest boards of education can afford; a position awarded to only the most experienced and trustworthy teachers in order to justify the high cost associated with such talent.

In contrast, dispatch companies provide ALTs "on the cheap"; they "create jobs" for people that would otherwise not exist were there no other options.

Or do they?

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Of Lionrock And Needlessly Placing Teachers In Danger

On August 17th, 2016, the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC), and the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), began tracking a subtropical depression that soon evolved into a powerful and erratic tropical cyclone.

On August 29th, the cyclone - now named "Lionrock" - abruptly and unexpectedly changed course, placing it on an unprecedented path towards Japan's tsunami and earthquake ravaged Tōhoku region, with Fukushima, Miyagi, and Iwate prefectures in particular braced to feel the full brunt of Lionrock's power...

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Kitakyushu BoE Bans Men!

In the midst of researching ALT working conditions at the Kitakyushu Board of Education, the Fukuoka General Union stumbled across a number of interesting documents via the Freedom of Information Act. Here's one, in particular, that made us quite unhappy...

In direct opposition to the law, the Board of Education has been caught demanding that a dispatch company replace the male ALT they were planning to send to the school with a female ALT, instead.

Their reasoning? They "had planned the curriculum on the premise of a female teacher coming to the school". This was a co-ed public school in Kitakyushu, and the school was willing to cancel classes until the male teacher was replaced.

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Union Issues Warning & Demands to Sapporo Board of Education

Here is the translation of an official warning sent by the General Union to Sapporo Board of Education over the recent ALT disaster. Please note that this is a rough translation. For a more accurate understanding read the original Japanese here.

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Sapporo Dispatch Disaster – Nova, Interac & Sapporo City Board of Education all to Blame

Up to 65 ALTs in Sapporo have been left to hang out and dry. They are now scrambling to try and put together a plan of how to get through the next few weeks as the full details of the disaster unfolds.


Just a month ago, re-contracting ALTs suddenly discovered that Interac had lost the contract with Sapporo City Board of Education. While upsetting, many - if not the majority of ALTs - were able to slide over to the new contractor - NOVA Holdings. While there was relief, there was also anger. NOVA was paying even less money than Interac had been. There would be no salary at all for a month in the summer and winter periods. At least Interac paid a partial salary during these periods. In addition to this, there would also be fewer paid annual leave days, as the "new" NOVA ALTs were back to zero with their length of service.

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Altia Central

This is an important message. Please spread it.

In recent negotiations Altia Central has admitted they have been breaking the paid annual leave law for many years. The union demanded that the company pay all current 285 ALTs financial compensation. Altia has refused. And instead, they are trying to institute a "worker's rep election" to try and fool people about their rights.

The union will not let this matter drop and will push for prosecution if the company does not compensate teachers.

Email union(@)generalunion.org for more details.

 

How Much Does A BoE Pay For An ALT Lesson?

From the Fukuoka General Union:

BOE sub-contracts out Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) work to dispatch companies, who in turn employ ALTs? A simple sum to work out how much Fukuoka City BOE pays per lesson, using documents obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI). ALTs are the only teachers that are "procured" by tender bid, but are treated as a "service" rather than a teacher.


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Olympic's Minister Endo "Not Aware" Of Fake Subcontracting

As the "donations-for-favors" scandal between the office of Olympic's Minister Endo Toshiaki and Interac Co. Ltd continues to brew, Mr Endo has claimed that he knew nothing about the directives that the Ministry of Education (MEXT) has issued to countless Boards of Education over the years, reiterating that the use of gyōmu itaku (outsourced sub-contracting) contracting in schools is (a) illegal, and that (b) Boards of Education should seek to directly hire foreign teachers.

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Assistant Language Teachers (ALT) in Japan - Below The Poverty Line

From the Fukuoka General Union:

This is an actual example on how impossible it is to live on the salary of a dispatched ALT working at a Kitakyushu City Board of Education public school. Though they are full time teachers, they only have 1000 yen a day to spend on food, and nothing else. They just can't survive on this low wage.
 
 

 

October 16 is almost here - Interac ALTs should lodge their concerns

As the General Union has reported, Interac Co. Ltd has announced an "absorption-type split agreement" that - as of January 1st, 2016 - will see it split into six subsidiary companies (view the full article here).

It is becoming clear to the General Union that this announcement, seemingly timed as a reaction to the recent revisions to the dispatch, and other labor laws that would directly affect the company, is designed not as a means by which to "position ourselves to manage the growth in the market", but as a way to evade legal obligations that they would otherwise soon be subject to.

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Why Is October 16th So Important To Interac?

In the midst of the General Union writing an article about Interac's recently announced "absorption-type split agreement" six regional companies, Interac has suddenly and unexpectedly sent time-sensitive letters to employees asking them to accept the changes that will come into effect on January 1st, 2016, or to lodge an objection by October 16th.

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Privacy Protection - Companies: Think Before You Click

At the end of August, 2015, a "Head Teacher" of one of the largest dispatch companies in Japan sent out a newsletter in which he pasted the e-mail address of every recipient into the "TO:" field instead of the "CC:" field, thus revealing the private e-mail addresses of everyone that the e-mail was intended for to everyone who received it.

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Interac Admits Head Teacher's Errors

On May 15th, the General Union learned that a head teacher of Interac (Sendai Branch) e-mailed a newsletter to teachers in Miyagi, the contents of which contained a number of spurious and illegal comments - chief among them: claiming that teachers would not receive a salary (from their Board of Education) if they did not submit a work report on time, and encouraging teachers to privately monitor each other to ensure that ONE late report would not result in MANY teachers not getting paid.

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Interac Just Gave Your Private E-Mail Address Away

Back in May (2015), a "Head Teacher" of Interac Sendai Branch wrote a newsletter that informed teachers that the company would (illegally) withhold their salaries if reports of work were submitted late (http://tinyurl.com/InteracHT).

The "Head Teacher" also encouraged teachers to harass each other, implying that one delayed report would affect everyone.

Well, today, someone has slipped up again - but this time, it's on a national level.

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"Head Teacher" Could Get Interac Sent To Detention

On Tuesday afternoon, a "Head Teacher" of Interac (Sendai Branch) - in an attempt to intimidate old and new ALTs alike - sent out a newsletter to a number of ALTs in Miyagi that included the following egregious paragraph of illegal misinformation:

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Nagoya City ALTs - Open Meeting

More and more Nagoya-shi Board of Education ALTs are contacting us and in response we are preparing to launch the Nagoya City ALT Branch/Local.

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Interac - Rumor has it....

There's an Interac office out there that "messed-up" on more than 150 contracts and they are now in a mad scramble to get teachers to sign another contract accepting lower salaries. You are not required to do so.

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Health Checks – They’re mandatory!

For many westerners, the idea of a state mandated health check smacks of a nanny state, and we are often reluctant to submit to the tests. While not all companies obey this law, the fact remains it is compulsory for all employees to have an annual health check under article 66 of the act.

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General Union and Interac settle at the Central Labour Commission

General Union members are set to benefit from a settlement brokered by the Central Labour Commission, on February 28, 2011. Interac has agreed to negotiate with the union in good faith. We believe that this is the start of a new relationship between Interac and the General Union

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Union membership pays off at Interac

Ever wondered what being a union member can do for you? Here's two recent examples.

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Complete victory in IES court case over shakai hoken

On November 7th, 2015, a union member's suit against his employer, International Education Services (IES), was settled in court mediation with the member winning each point he sued for. ("IES Sued Over Failure To Enrol In Shakai Hoken").

Foreign workers are often lead to believe that they are not eligible for shakai hoken (Employee's Health and Pension Insurance), or that - since they don't want the pension - they are better off with only kokumin kenkō hoken (Nation Health Insurance (NHI), via their local municipal office). Well, we hope this story will make you think again!

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IES sued over failure to enroll in shakai hoken

On 9 April a member, supported by the union, filed a case against International Education Services for failure to enroll him in shakai hoken (health & pension) for the past fourteen years.


This case came to the union's attention when a member came to us with a possible problem with his contract renewal. While examining the contract we realised that even though he was on a clear full time contract for the past fourteen years he had never been enrolled in health and pension insurance (shakai hoken).  Nor was he enrolled on unemployment insurance.

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Joytalk: A Cautionary Tale

"Joytalk" has become known to the General Union as a name that usually precedes a story of woe soon to follow. Indeed, whenever we see the word "joy" and "talk" together in the same sentence, it's usually a sign that someone is having a bad time.

We've mentioned them before in regards to contracts that forbid resignation, privacy concerns, forcing teachers to brave typhoons, and serious allegations of breaking immigration law.

Today, we have yet another cautionary tale which involves more accusations of immigration law shenanigans.

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From Reddit: "Don't Work Without A Visa (And Think Twice About Working For Joytalk)"

With April quickly approaching, it will soon be "that time of year" again - a time in which many foreigners dance to the tune of impending transfers, turnovers, and replacements while Boards of Education across Japan throw money around in the hope that dispatch companies will be the solution to the very problems that dispatch companies create (and so the prophecy fulfils itself).

Those who are caught up in this annual waltz often find themselves with a number of decisions to make and, often, the idiom of "any port in a storm" seems an apt descriptor: when one is having serious trouble, one must accept any solution, whether one likes the solution or not; when one wants to live in Japan by any means necessary, one must accept any job, regardless of the reputation of the company that they want to work for.

In such a situation, the question of "at what cost?" might not be all that important - but do the ends always justify the means?

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Heart Corporation - Can My Company Tell Me What I'm Allowed To Eat?

We recently received this email from an ALT with Heart Corporation:

"My manager told me that I must sit and eat with students during their lunch period. I don’t mind as it is part of my job responsibilities but the manager said I have to eat the school lunch. Worse than that, when I checked the company manual, it said that I am not allowed to eat any outside food at all, even in the teachers’ room. Is this legal?"

Article 6.9 - "Aside from approved ALT-brought lunches, it is not acceptable to chew gum or eat outside food in the school at any time, including the teacher’s room."

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The Situation With Altia Central

This is an update which has been sent to all of the Altia Central teachers with whom we are in contact. For the sake of informing as many people as possible (for example, people with Altia Central who may be out of the loop, or others who are considering Altia Cental as an employment option), we think it would be prudent to share this information to the public, too.

Here is what has been happening, and what will likely happen in the coming weeks:

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Failing To Think Before Clicking, Heart Coporation Leaks E-Mail Address

On December 7th, in a bizarre and unsolicited e-mail, Heart Corporation / Heart English School carelessly revealed the private e-mail addresses of numerous people - many of whom appear to have never actually worked for the company or, in the case of the union member who passed this information along, left the company several years ago.

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Fukuoka Board of MISeducation wants legal changes

Fukuoka Now magazine has reported that the Fukuoka Board of Education (BoE) is asking the central government to relax some changes in the Worker Dispatch Law in order to offer more vibrant English classes.

Currently, Assistant Language Teachers (ALT) working for the Fukuoka BoE are being dispatched to their schools on a "gyomu itaku" subcontracting basis. This means that they are on consignment from a private dispatch company so the BoE is not allowed to guide the teachers' work without committing subcontracting fraud.

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Minerva Language Institute Labour Commission Case Settled

On March 18, 2014, the union lodged an unfair labour practice case against Minerva Language Institute (Minerva) for failing to negotiate at the Osaka Labour Relations Commission.

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Fast-tracking unfair labor practice case against Minerva (BL Kids International School)

After an early morning secretariat meeting today, two union officers are busy preparing documentation to lodge an unfair labor practice case against Minerva.  We expect to be able to file the case at the Osaka Prefectural Labor Commission by lunchtime tomorrow.

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Being an ALT in Japan - The Video Handbook

The General Union is producing a video handbook for working in Japan as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher). We'll be covering topics such as taxes, health insurance, housing, and workplace issues.

Feel free to email us if you would like your questions answered alt(@)generalunion.org.

ALTs Open Meeting - October 21

For the first time, we are opening our Osaka October General Meeting to non-members.

We will be holding a series of seminars, or workshops, about the law and workers' rights. There will also be a meeting aimed specifically for ALTs. It is open to members and non-members alike.

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ALTs - Have you received a health check?

Some dispatch companies, but not all, provide annual health checks. Japan has one of the highest rates of tuberculous in the western world, and as a result, School Health & Safety Law mandates that teachers must be tested yearly.

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Tokai City ALTs - video update

Despite repeated requests for collective bargaining, Tokai City and Tokai City Board of Education repeatedly refuse to negotiate over the issue of the illegal dispatch of Assistant Language Teachers.

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Tokai Board of Education found guilty of illegal dispatch

After more than six months of union action, Tokai Board of Education has been found guilty of illegal dispatch by the Aichi Prefectural Labor Board.

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Stop outsourcing public school ALT jobs

If we wish to see improved job security and wages for Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) working at public schools, unions have no choice but to take on the public boards of education.

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STOP ILLEGAL DISPATCHING TO BOARDS OF EDUCATION!

In January 2007, the General Union conducted a survey among the Boards of Education of all cities, towns and villages in Osaka Prefecture to assess the employment conditions of Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs).

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Open Meeting For ALTs - Kansai regionSunday, April 26th

We, ALTs, are quite aware of the growing problems that we face in our field on a daily basis. It's time to come together and see what can be done about them.

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Not even JET positions are safe from dispatch

We recently fielded a frantic call from a JET teacher in Northern Japan.

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Nagoya City ALTs - Open Meeting

More and more Nagoya-shi Board of Education ALTs are contacting us and in response we are preparing to launch the Nagoya City ALT Branch/Local.

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Matsubara Returns to Direct Hire

ALTs at Matsubara-city are set to benefit from better working conditions after the city Board of Education (BoE) made a major decision to revert back to direct hire.

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Interac? Selti? W5? Altia? Borderlink? Westgate? Ziac?

Early each year there is a mad scramble amongst dispatch teachers. The union gets inundated with email and telephone calls from teachers worried that they may be non-renewed, worried that they don't have unemployment insurance.

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Interac kicked out of Kurashiki Board of Education - Union wins direct employment for teachers

Interac, notorious for illegal sub-contracting and its hostile attitude to worker rights, continues to grow across Japan but the union has been able to stop them in their tracks in Kurashiki, Okayama prefecture.

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Hirakata City bows to General Union demand for direct employment of ALTs

Hirakata City Board of Education (BoE) has decided to return to the direct hiring of ALTs from June 2007.

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Health Checks – They’re mandatory!

For many westerners, the idea of a state mandated health check smacks of a nanny state, and we are often reluctant to submit to the tests. While not all companies obey this law, the fact remains it is compulsory for all employees to have an annual health check under article 66 of the act.

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Union takes action against Aichi schools

Two years ago, after surveying Osaka prefectural boards of Education, the General Union found that 23 city boards of education were employing illegal ITAKU (subcontracting) contracts to supply their schools with Assistant English Teachers (ALTs).

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General Union anti-dispatching campaign makes the news

On March 24th the General Union took its campaign against the dispatching of ALTs to Boards of Education to the mass media.

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OWLS Dispatch company ordered to repay illegal salary deductions to twenty teachers

Company ordered to drop illegal penalties

At the Fukuoka General Union (FGU), the company which seems to generate the most grievances is OWLS.They are a dispatch company that has contracts with Kita-kyushu City, Fukuoka Prefecture and a number of other Boards of Education.

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English instructors hired illegally: union

Japan Times Article - Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2009 NAGOYA (Kyodo) A labor union of foreign workers requested Monday that the Aichi prefectural board of education address the concerns of English-language instructors at public schools who they say are working under illegal contracts.

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Additional information