The source of this teachable moment about the legal definition of “homework” was an e-mail sent by a “Joytalk ALT Manager” in 2017, which contained the following direction:
Preform [sic] some action research concerning the situation in which you teach/work. Action research is small scale research that teachers preform [sic] in their own classrooms. Basically speaking, to perform action research you:
1) Observe a problem
2) Devise a possible solution
3) Try out your solution
4) Observe and record the results
5) Report on those results and their implications for the benefit of your colleagues
So your homework assignment will be to do just that and bring in your report so that you can share it with everyone.
Rather than listen to us for 3 days make speculations about what works/doesn’t work in YOUR classrooms, lets have you, the people, share with us what does/doesn’t work.
As we said at the time, the language used was specific in that Joytalk was tasking its ALTs to perform “action research” at school (which is fine as work, though we would argue that running experiments on students is a bit unethical), and then to create a report on the results of that “research” as a “homework assignment”.
In the wake of our article, we received correspondence from several Joytalk ALTs who told us that – far from the claims from some that people should have known that “homework” didn’t mean “homework” (and were dumb if they didn’t) – they had spent entire evenings at home creating the reports and presentations that they thought they would need in order to adhere to the work order from Joytalk management.
Does this mean that Joytalk set out to intentionally trick ALTs into performing unpaid overtime at home?
Probably not, no.
In any case, it seems that someone at Joytalk is a fan of the General Union (hello!), because the 2018 version of that asks for the same kind of research goes out of its way to make sure that no one does any work at home unless they absolutely 100% want to (completely independent of company direction).
Here’s what the 2018 e-mail said (emphasis ours):
Last year we asked all our teachers to do some in-class, on-the-job research (called action research) in order to observe, reflect, and report on their efforts to improve their own teaching as well as the students’ proficiency.
This year we would again like to ask you to do some on-the-job preparation for training so that we can share your collective ideas and expertise.
For this year’s project, we are asking each of you to bring in your best activities, curricula, lesson plans, and teaching materials for the topics we have listed above. We will then have a poster session(s) for everyone to present their ideas.
A poster session is basically a brief talk given repeatedly to different small groups as they mill about participating in the presentations they are most interested in. Everyone will be given the chance to present as well as participate in these talks.
Also, we would like to extend the invitation for our veterans or for those who are interested to do a presentation or run a workshop for your area.If you are interested in doing a large presentation, please send us your proposal by July 15th.
Please do as much research and preparation as you can for your poster sessions, presentation, or workshop so that you can give an informed talk.
You may of course spend whatever time outside of work pursuing your interests in these matters and polishing your presentations, however, (and I can’t stress this enough) we do not intend that any preparation for training be done outside of your regular working hours.
We look forward to hearing what you have to bring!
Gaslighting aside (you did not ask them to do “in-class, on-the-job research”, Joytalk – we have the receipts!), we have to give credit where credit is due.
Someone at Joytalk seems to have read our previous article on this subject and decided that, this year, there would be absolutely no question that the assignment they’re asking people to do ONLY be done during working hours, and that any work at home is ENTIRELY the decision of the individual in question.
No confusion. No arguments about what “homework” REALLY means. Just: “hey, please do this work, but only do it during working hours”.
Good job, Joytalk person who apparently reads General Union articles!
Oh, but wait… what’s that at the bottom of the e-mail?
Also keep in mind that we are unable to authorize paid leave for Joytalk training days or special work days in summer.
These dates are very important to our clients and any absence on these special days would interfere with the regular operation of our business.
Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.
Oh. Oh dear.
Hey, did you know that it’s illegal for a company to decline requests for paid leave without a genuinely justifiable reason?
We’re talking “the financial health of the business is at stake if you take time off and we can prove it if need be” kinds of reasons here – not the spurious “nu-uh because training though so there” abuse of managerial powers ones.
As we’ve stated before (and will state again and again as long as we need to), paid holiday is given to an employee by Japanese labor law as a legal right, and not some kind of “gift” that is bestowed upon an employee by a benevolent company.
Paid holiday (年休; Nenkyū) is yours to use as you deem fit.
If you want to use paid holiday to skip “training days”, that is absolutely fine.
If you want to use paid holiday on any day that also happens to be a “special work day”, that is absolutely fine.
The company might not like it, and they might decide to cause trouble for you in retaliation, but they absolutely cannot – and we can’t stress this enough – refuse to allow you to use YOUR legal right to paid holiday.
The claim that doing so would “interfere with the regular operation of our business” is highly questionable, and the burden would be on the company to prove that if taken to task over such a ridiculous statement.
(If the “regular operation of your business” is in peril because someone takes a holiday, maybe you don’t deserve to be in business to begin with? Just saying!)
For more information on this topic, please refer to the following articles:
• Top 8 Facts About Paid Annual Leave
• Paid Holidays: The Law vs Your Workplace
• Don’t Let Profit Hungry Companies Eat Your Holidays
• “NO VAcation on Saturdays”, says NOVA; “Paid Vacation is a Right”, says the General Union
As we stated in the above article about NOVA:
This is not sufficent reason.
The General Union believes that the law is clear: that the employee has the right to use paid holidays as they wish; that NOVA had no justifiable reason to deny the request; that NOVA should immediately approve the paid holiday; and that teachers should not be forced into organizing their own “shift swaps”.
To the people reading this article, understanding your paid holiday rights is one of THE most important things you can do while living and working in Japan.
If you want to learn about labor law but don’t know where to start, the laws that govern paid holiday use in Japan (and, specifically, what influence companies have over your paid holidays) is a great place to start.
To the person at Joytalk who reads General Union articles: you did a good job in making the “this is not homework” thing clear this year, but you really need to see if you can’t also clean up the company’s act when it comes to the illegal refusal of paid holiday requests.
You don’t want to end up like NOVA, do you?
(By the way, what’s the word for when you do a good thing but then immediately ruin it with a bad thing?)