Spreading the Union Word at International Schools

On 5 December union and non-union members working at International kindergartens, elementary, and junior and senior high schools met to discuss issues facing workers at their schools. More importantly though, we met to discuss the possible solutions to these problems.

Using a case study for Nagoya International School (NIS) we looked at some of the main problems employees face:

  • General lack of knowledge about labour law in Japan almost as if they were covered by some kind of extraterritoriality agreement like Japan suffered under western colonial powers.
  • Failure to enroll in government mandated employment, health, and pension insurance.
  • Failure to take complaints of harassment seriously and deal with the harassment problem.
  • Presenting themselves as being progressive on gender, race, and labour issues while at the same time failing to deal with these problems in the workplace.

Many international school employees, teachers especially, feel that they are powerless to deal with these problems for fear that they will be refused the gold-standard reference letter from the head of school. We discussed this as the main barrier to unionisation in International Schools along with the lack of awareness of a trade union and rights under the Trade Union Law.

We know that change is possible at International Schools. With just a small group of union members at Nagoya International School we have been able to win many rights that NIS was ignoring under the labour law (e.g. paid holidays, unlimited term contracts), get mandatory enrollment on all government mandated insurance, a get harassment committee composed of both employees and administrators

Our current dispute with NIS over the contract non-renewal of a union member after she had filed a sexual harassment complaint is still not settled. But by standing together and engaging in an open dispute with NIS we hope that they will come to their senses.

It is very clear that without a union, international school employees cannot enter into good faith negotiations to make improvements.

Members were excited to start a new organising project aimed specifically at International Schools across Japan and a four member committee was struck to begin the first phase of our project. Some ideas included direct methods of outreach, surveys based on objective criteria, and a “code of conduct” that we will ask all international schools to accept.