Over the past two decades the General Union has made countless improvements to the working conditions of ECC staff and teachers.
ECC attempts to implement 40 hour contracts
ECC teachers first began actively unionizing back in Autumn 1995 when ECC announced its intentions to enact the “Beyond Borders” project which included plans to recruit university students overseas on 40 hour per week contracts. Teachers were generally concerned with the declining working conditions at ECC and decided to join the GU for support.
Branch executive members were elected, and the General Union ECC Branch was formally declared to ECC on February 26, 1996. Initial demands were simple. Members demanded that ECC follow the Labour Standards Law, the Trade Union Law, and the Constitution of Japan (which guarantees the right to unionize). Members also submitted a demand for ECC to make no changes in working conditions, etc., without consultation with, and consent of the branch.
As a result, the union won a pre-consultation system. The union must be advised of any major changes to the working conditions of members in advance. ECC also confirmed in writing that they would obey the Constitution, the Trade Union Law, and the Labour Standards Law.
Union Wins ALPs
After winning these assurances, the branch quickly began an organizing campaign focusing on the Labour Standards Law, in particular paid holidays. Despite stating they would follow the Labor Standards Law, ECC was, in fact, in violation of it. At the time, all vacations were set by ECC and there was no yukyuukyuuka (annual leave), now more commonly known as Annual Leave with Pay days (ALPs). In October 1996, ECC agreed to implement an annual leave system that complied with the Labour Standards Law. From April 1997, ECC started the current paid holiday system, fixing 10 days and giving full time teachers between 5 and 10 flexible paid vacation days.
Collective bargaining was successful in achieving company-wide changes. However, as membership grew organizers were faced with an increasing number of individual grievances. In 1997, the General Union proposed a grievance procedure to deal with members’ individual workplace issues. After several rounds of talks, ECC agreed to start a Union-ECC Grievance Procedure. The grievance procedure is still is use today and has resolved numerous issues for teachers, issues that they had not been able to resolve on their own.
The emergence of NOVA as major force in the English Language Industry was having a large impact on business performance. Job security and the lack of a safety net were big issues. For the 1998 Shunto (Spring Offensive) the branch submitted demands that all teachers be enrolled in Unemployment Insurance. Even though ECC agreed to the union’s demands, ECC dragged their feet, and it was not until mid 1999 that teachers were finally enrolled.
Scheduling was also becoming an issue as more and more emphasis was placed on native teacher taught free-time lessons rather than the traditional native taught regular lessons. Teachers were extremely upset when ECC stopped surveying teachers about their preferred working hours and days offs. Several rounds of collective bargaining resulted in ECC reinstating the April Preference Survey, now known as the Spring Preference Survey. This allows teachers to have some level of input into their assigned schools.
Health & Pension
As ECC shifted from predominately domestic hire to recruiting teachers from abroad, union membership slowly waned. However, the newer teachers brought new concerns. Membership began to rebound as new recruits who were dissatisfied with ECC-introduced housing, commuting times, and various other issues decided to join the union. Health insurance and pension also became a higher priority for teachers.
In 2005, the General Union launched an industry-wide campaign over health and pension enrollment. In line with the union’s campaign, the ECC branch submitted demands for all full-time teachers to be enrolled in the shakai hoken (Employees’ Health and Pension Insurances). The now defunct Social Insurance Agency audited hundreds of language schools over violation of the health and pension laws. The result: many larger schools followed in ECC’s footsteps and made sudden reductions in working hours to 29.5 hours per week, to skirt the Agency’s ¾ of a full-timer guidelines. ECC also refused to budge and the union was left with no option but to enter into a dispute. Demonstrations were held in front of ECC schools. Complaints were lodged with the Social Insurance Agency, and at Labour Standards Offices.
After months of action, ECC finally agreed to settle with the General Union. From October 1, 2006, ECC teachers hired on 29.5 hour per week contracts could ask to be enrolled in shakai hoken, on the condition the teacher would work an extra paid 30 minutes a week. ECC also agreed to include paid work time before and after every lesson in teachers’ schedules. As part of the dispute settlement, the union also won improved union rights at ECC. The General Union now has 20 minutes to introduce the union to newly hired ECC Foreign Language Institute native teachers in the Kinki District.
Training Pay Improvements
The union winning shakai hoken helped increase General Union membership in Osaka and Nagoya. It also had a flow on effect to Tokyo, inspiring teachers to organize. Demands after this focused on training pay. Core training and workshops outside of working hours were paid at only 1000 yen per hour. The General Union demanded that all training be conducted within scheduled working hours or be paid at the overtime rate, and members began actively campaigning over the issue. On August 1st, 2008, ECC and the GU concluded a collective labour agreement. Full-time teachers would be paid at the overtime rate for mandatory training (excluding core training) from October, 2008.
Right to Strike Recognized
2010 was a big year for the ECC Branch, as the union and ECC concluded three collective agreements. The ECC Branch became the second branch in the GU’s history to win a union dues check off agreement, making it easier to pay union dues and giving the union further recognition at ECC. In the same collective agreement ECC also recognized the right for General Union members to strike.
Improved Conditions for Subs
In April, another collective agreement was signed over a toll-free number for substitute teachers to call for their shifts. Union-Management meetings were also established to give teachers another voice and to allow them to express concerns and present ideas.
The union also has actively negotiated for clearer emergency evacuation procedures, and while improvements are still needed the union has been a driving force behind the progress made. As a result, emergency evacuation maps would be put in all Foreign Language Institute schools.
Scheduling around the April Block Meetings/All Staff Meetings and winter vacation buffer days was an on going issue. ECC management was notorious for giving little notice. Through collective bargaining the union secured 10 days advance notice and another labour agreement was signed in August 2010. ECC also signed off on improvements to teachers’ working environments. Schools without a kitchen sink received a water cooler. Teacher areas were becoming a thing of the past, but through negotiations the union also secured teacher areas where floor space allows.
These can play a huge part in a lack of access to information in the workplace. Childcare Leave being added to the English Working Regulations for teachers was another union victory in 2011. This clarified the right of teachers to take this leave. While a seemingly small win to some, the union also demanded and won English pay slips.
Working conditions unique to Japan are often hidden, and not given to foreign workers. ECC has extremely detailed regulations on Special Leave for auspicious and ominous occasions for Japanese staff members. The union argued for many years this was discrimination. Native teachers were even penalized in the evaluation process for missing time. After several years negotiating, and having reached a deadlock, the union filed for mediation at the Osaka Prefectural Labour Relations Commission. This forced ECC back to the negotiating table. In April 2012, ECC and the union finally signed off on a collective labour agreement. Union members now have access to similar unpaid Special Leave – seven calendar days for their honeymoon, and at least 7 calendar days to attend a funeral of an immediate family member.
Continued union activity has played a key role in maintaining and increasing union membership at ECC. This in turn has led to improved conditions for teachers and staff across the board. The ECC branch continues to tackle job security and permanent teaching positions for union members who are all one-year contract workers. We are also demanding bonuses like so many Japanese ECC workers receive. Join today and help to continue to improve your working conditions at ECC.