Bar backs GU on NOVA’s socialisation policy

Apr 2, 2004

Click here to see the ruling Ten years ago, in September 1994, there was uproar at NOVA when the company announced that they would test teachers for drug use and put a clause to that effect in the contract because of the arrest of one NOVA teacher for possession of marijuana. Hundreds of teachers rushed to join the union and demanded an end to the policy. A union branch was declared and the General Union called a press conference, where members announced their refusal to accept the tests. On 30 September 1994, 11 union teachers filed a complaint with the Osaka Bar Association Human Rights Committee, and won a judgment on 25 July 1995 that compulsory testing was a human rights violation. Forms giving assent to the testing which teachers had been required to sign at the risk of losing their jobs were ordered to be returned to the teachers. The Bar Association likened the drug tests to a criminal investigation but without any concrete evidence of wrongdoing. After teachers stood up against this as a union, no teachers were ever drug-tested again, and the drug-testing clauses in the teachers’ contracts became a dead letter. 10 years on…a new target The General Union has for a number of years been demanding and negotiating the abolition of the draconian clauses in the teachers’ contracts and working rules. ‘The employee shall not initiate, agree to or participate in any interaction with the clients of the Employer outside the place of employment’, ‘The instructor will not fraternize or socialize, or attempt to do so with the clients of the Employer for any reason outside the workplace’. Faced again with NOVA’s refusal last February, NOVA union teachers, with full union backing, filed a complaint at the same Human Rights Committee against the non-socialisation clauses. Why the fuss? Some teachers at NOVA doubtless think ‘But we signed a contract, and we agreed to it, so why all the fuss?’ Not so fast. Just because you sign something, it doesn’t mean it’s binding or even legal. In civilized countries you can’t sign away your legal rights. Even if you put your signature to a contract, any illegal clauses in it are automatically invalid (without necessarily invalidating the other clauses). ‘The right to date’? Unfortunately, the mass media, doing what they do best, have managed to reduce a serious issue to the level of the gutter. The “respected” newspaper ‘Nihon Keizai Shimbun’ made asses of themselves by putting a heart mark alongside their headline reporting the case. One panelist on Ogura’s ‘Tokutane’ morning news on Channel 8 also missed the point, saying ‘They signed the contract; if they don’t like it, they can leave; there are loads of schools around’. Some teachers have even expressed the opinion that the union is fighting for the right to have sex with students! Let’s look at the facts. NOVA has been abusing its rights by using the socialisation issue as a reason to dismiss teachers in serious relationships. In our complaint we listed some examples from the year 2000: – a teacher who got engaged to a young woman who was by chance a student in a different NOVA school from his. – a teacher who was given the choice to quit or be fired for getting engaged (See ‘Justin’s Story’, below). – a teacher who was forced to quit for meeting and dating someone he had first met in a bakery, who again, happened to be a NOVA student. In the first case, the union won the withdrawal of the dismissal, but with the abuses continuing, we decided that we should attack the policy at its root, as a violation of the most basic rights of freedom of association guaranteed in the Constitution. We are not fighting simply for the ‘right to date’, and certainly not for the right to take advantage of students. Some people will do bad things regardless of rules, but we don’t criminalise driving because of car accidents. The Recommendation The Bar Association’s letter of 24 February recommended that NOVA delete the offending clauses from contracts and working rules, and withdraw the dismissal of one of the plaintiffs. Its comment on the reasons for its findings included these points: – NOVA’s policy is a violation of freedom of association and the right to privacy, and they cannot prohibit employees’ activities outside the workplace. – The rules are too vague and too extensive to be used as regulations. – Even though teachers sign these contracts, the employee is in an inherently weak position and cannot object to regulations proposed by an employer. – Japanese staff are under no such restrictions, and so the non-socialisation policy for foreigners is problematic from the point of view of equality. NOVA Backs Down? In the Bar’s letter, they wrote, ‘According to the defendant’s lawyer, they have now started revising the present Instructor’s Contract and Working Regulations in their entirety, intending to delete the aforementioned provisions prohibiting socialisation with students, and a new contract and regulations are to be decided this December.’ The GU will hold NOVA to its word.

Justin’s Story (NOVA’s non-socialisation policy) Justin enthusiastically agreed to have his name put in the original complaint filed against NOVA in February last year, and after the Bar’s ruling, he wrote this letter to the union: “I can’t express the satisfaction I feel that the General Union has won such a victory over NOVA! Wow! This is something I’ve been waiting to hear for nearly 4 years now. I always knew that what I had done was not something worthy of being (fired) forced to resign for. I was so angry when it all happened then. After all, mine was an honest relationship that turned into a happy marriage which I am still very blessed with. I was not out taking advantage of students, but I knew a lot who were: nothing ever happened to them. Anyway, and fortunately, because of me having to leave NOVA, I was able to move on to better opportunities. I found a much better job with better pay. Nonetheless, what you have done to make sure that what I went through at NOVA never happens to another teacher/employee again is very noble and worthy of much praise. I thank you very much for your efforts to do what is right and protect human rights in Japan. Currently, I’m living in Hawaii and I work for a bank. I’m very happy out here. My wife is out here with me and we are making a pretty good life for ourselves. To imagine that I should have just ignored her and not dated her just because of NOVA’s stupid policy of anti-socialisation would have been one of my biggest regrets and I definitely would not have had the happiness I have now. I’m truly grateful that I did what was right and believed in myself enough to take a stand and a risk, even though it meant losing my job. That’s precisely what you are doing for others now and it’s to be commended. Thanks to you, teachers at NOVA will have the basic rights they are entitled to as honest, hardworking members of a great society. With lots of sincere thanks and aloha, Justin Christensen