By: Fred Henley
In light of impending changes to national mask-wearing guidelines from March 13th and the May 8th downgrade of the threat status of the novel coronavirus as an infectious disease, General Union put out questionnaires to several prominent language schools throughout Japan, asking if they will respond to guideline changes by altering their own Covid-19 prevention measures.
Respondent companies generally indicated that, after March 13th, clients and workers will be allowed to wear masks as a matter of personal choice. This was not a big surprise, since masking up has been a common practice in Japan – a country in which hay fever is prominent and in which social propriety is explicitly prioritized – for decades.
One outlier has been ECC. For many years, ECC’s policy has been that face masks are not allowed for language instructors during lesson time. The reasoning is that clients will not hear spoken English as well and that they will not see natural mouth movements necessary for mastering English.
Of course, throughout the course of the Coronavirus pandemic since early 2020, ECC has required instructors to wear masks – even requiring instructors to wear non-woven masks only.
That is why, when ECC announced on March 10th that masks are not to be worn by instructors during lessons from March 13th onward, many were surprised and upset. At ECC, as in all other companies, there are workers with specific health concerns and special vulnerabilities who wish to continue to have the option to wear a mask, especially in enclosed spaces with many people, where the objective is to speak directly at each other.
Many ECC employees expressed concern directly to school management, training staff, and Human Resources over this change, and while General Union stopped short of submitting a formal demand over the issue while it assessed the opinions of union members, it made a note to company management that the updated masking policy appeared to be an upset.
Our union and many ECC workers were pleasantly surprised then when ECC issued a “correction” to their previous masking update. In this new version of the policy, face masks are allowed during instruction time. That is, at least until May 8th, when changes to the legal status of Coronavirus will spur companies and institutions to re-evaluate all of their Covid-19 reduction measures again.
For now, workers at ECC have some peace of mind while they gear up for annual collective bargaining sessions over workplace improvement demands, which will doubtlessly require much of their attention.
If you have concerns about the health and safety policies at your workplace, do not hesitate to contact General Union for a non-member consultation to see what your options are and what a labour union may be able to do for you. Request a consultation at: https://generalunion.org/consult/