In August 2012 a new law was passed in Japan to enhance job security for the more than 30% of employees working on limited term contracts. The law is supposed to ensure that after five years of continuous employment from the date the law comes into effect, 1 April 2013, that the worker is legally entitled to receive a contract without a term limit. This means your employer would need a real reason to end your employment. They would no longer be able just to tell you, “Thanks for your efforts, but your contract is up.”
However because of the efforts and influence of pro-business politicians and organisations, the law is full of loopholes which employers can exploit to undermine the law’s stated purpose, which is to increase employment security for workers on limited term contracts. For example, it doesn’t include time spent working for an employer before April 1st 2013 and time spent working for an employer before a six-month “cooling-off period” (break) in employment.
At the end of November the General Union received a letter from Osaka University (Handai) which stated that Handai was now considering the introduction of a five year limit on the renewal of contracts for its part time teachers. They brazenly stated this was to avoid the provisions of the new law and and prevent their part-time teachers from passing the five years and qualifying for a contract with no limit. Teachers who reached the limit would be forced to take “cooling off period” before being able to be re-employed with the university. The GU has heard rumours that both Ritsumeikan and Konan universities are planning to do the same. However, we don’t believe that teachers will take this lying down. On the 12th January GU held an information meeting attended by union members and other interested teachers. We in the process of contacting other unions to build the broadest possible response to these attacks.
What can you do if you discover your employer is planning to introduce a contract limit at the beginning of the 2013 academic year?
If you’re a union member, follow these steps. If you’re not yet a union member, join first and then follow these steps to join our fight back and protect your job.
1. With your current employer: If you are given a contract for next year which states any contract renewal limits, call us immediately. The union will negotiate directly for any teacher faced with a contract renewal limit. We will probably still advise you to sign the contract in order to secure your employment while we negotiate.
The union believes that a separate clause of the new law means limits on contract renewal introduced unilaterally are invalid and are probably unenforceable for existing employees. However we don’t want to wait five years for court decisions. We need to negotiate and apply pressure on employers to drop the limits as soon as possible.
2. With a new employer: If given a new contract which includes a contract limit you need to let us now. Again, we will probably advise you to sign first to secure the new job, but you should contact us so that we can decide what is best in your case. The union will also submit demands with these employers. Even though the contract renewal limits are not illegal for a new post, we believe that through negotiation, dispute, and social pressure, we can stop employers from abusing loopholes to rob you of your rights.
3. One more quick note. The law regarding the non-limited term employment starts on 1 April. If you are asked to sign a one year contract which starts (not the date signed) before 1 April even though you have a contract till 31 March, again, please let us know. If the contract starts before 1 April you will not pass five years until 2019 (one year late).
What else is the union doing?
Along with studying this law internally we are providing workshops for our members and non members to prepare our campaign.
Soon we will be sending out a questionnaire to universities in the Kansai region asking them about their intentions and warning them off contract limits, especially for current employees.
Where contract limits are rumoured, and we have members, the union will also submit demands for elimination of contract renewal limits when members OK the demands.
Union membership can make the difference between being a victim of this law and enjoying its benefits. If you are not a union member, them it’s time to consider joining.