Looking Back on the Sugiyama Jogakuen Fight

Dec 2, 2019


With Article 18 of the newly-amended Labor Contract Law set to come into effect on April 1, 2018, and give limited-term contract workers who had worked for longer than five years the right to request a change to an unlimited-term contract, the school tried to avoid this by enforcing a “cooling” period (temporary layoff) for part-time teachers who would otherwise be eligible.

Foreign teachers unable to write Japanese were handed a “model resignation letter” and made to copy this out and hand it in.

This trick was met with fierce protest from the Union and Sugiyama subsequently withdrew it.

However, then they gave notice to all the General Union members who were about to get the right to unlimited contracts that they would be dismissed at the end of March 2018.

When the Union pointed out in collective bargaining that this could be illegal, the school did not even try to claim that it was legally justified, instead taking that attitude that “Toyota and Todai are doing it too, so what’s wrong with that?”


In response to this abuse from Sugiyama Jogakuen, the General Union filed a request for corrective guidance at the Aichi Prefectural Labor Bureau.

Receiving this request, the Bureau conducted an investigation and – on March 28, 2018 – issued an advisory letter to the school pointing out the potential illegality of the dismissals.

This gave rise to hope that the problem might be solved.


One hundred days after the issuing of the advisory letter, the school sent a bizarre answer to the General Union: “Of the five Union members, we will agree to renew four of the contracts”

The Union replied to this by demanding: “Why is one person being fired? Show us a concrete reason.”

The letter they sent us at a later date to explain the reasons was full of lies, so the Union member in question personally pointed out each and every one of the untruths, and demanded confirmation of the facts.

Sugiyama Jogakuen responded that they would “investigate [the matter] and report the results later”.

However, there was no further correspondence.

When the Union finally pressed them for an answer, they replied with a nonsensical answer that contradicted what they’d said before: “[t]he Union is seeking withdrawal of the dismissal, and reporting the investigation results won’t matter anyway, so we will not report them”.

There was also now another problem: while going through this whole process, the five Union members were unable to work during the 2018 school year.

Therefore the Union demanded payment of an absence allowance of 60% of the previous year’s (2017) salary, as stipulated by Article 26 of the Labor Standards Act.

Sugiyama agreed to this but calculated that one Union member’s absence allowance to be less than 100,000 yen for the entire year, with the others being given similar amounts.

The Union responded to this by demanding a recalculation and attaching the actual calculation method provided for by the law.

After this, Sugiyama’s offers for this absence payment (under the label of “settlement money”) went from a one-million yen lump sum, and then later to two million yen.

Also, even for those members who had their contracts renewed and gained unlimited-term employment, the Labor Contract Act’s provision for “a switch [to an unlimited-term contract] with no disadvantageous changes in working conditions” was ignored.

All but one of our members had their number of classes cut, and one even was given an insulting “unlimited contract for zero classes, at zero pay”  offer.

Sugiyama was continuing to fight back with no apparent concern for the law.


Eventually, Sugiyama Jogakuen resorted to openly announcing their refusal to engage in bargaining, saying: “the conclusion is already decided, so negotiation is meaningless”.

In response, the General Union went to the Osaka Prefectural Labor Commission to file an unfair labor practice complaint over this whole sequence of events.

This was on February 4, 2019.


Soon after the Osaka Labor Commission started its investigation, negotiations with a representative from Sugiyama Jogakuen began.

The negotiation went on continuously for several months – but with some effort from Sugiyama’s representative, the Union was finally able to get a labor agreement, and therefore withdrew the Labor Commission complaint.

Therefore, a sort of conclusion was reached.


From “everyone fired” at the beginning, to an agreement that “the one member dismissed will return to work, and Sugiyama will pay a 7-million yen settlement and agree to uphold the law” at the end, the dispute described above took over two years to play out.

The Union’s initial demands were not all met, but we were indeed able to reverse Sugiyama Jogakuen’s original plans and protect the rights of workers.

If there had been no union at Sugiyama Jogakuen, could workers individually have done anything against the school’s abuses?

Workers must have the legal and moral strength and methods to make employers behave legally and morally (even when they are unwilling to).

Unions are the only way to make this happen.