oday, Saturday April 16th, ECC teachers and other ECC workers are on strike as General Union urges ECC to continue negotiations to settle complaints that its employees have been making for years now.
This strike is a long time in the making and its roots go back all the way to 2016, if you would believe it, when ECC introduced its “35 Hour Teaching Staff” contract for foreign employees.
An Unpopular Scheme
Among a slew of features that most older instructors considered a downgrade from their current contracts, there was something known colloquially as the “EQ Day” system.
Under this system, although ECC elects to observe national holidays (when students are unlikely to attend a language class anyway), Teaching Staff are required to work an extra day to “make up” for the holiday.
What kind of work would professional instructors perform on these days? By all accounts, mostly drudgery: stamping envelopes, stuffing ads into tissue wrappers, taping torn up flash cards, or even scrubbing floors.
This system, in addition to longer working hours, resulted in over 5 years of instructors feeling chronically burnt out, unappreciated, and as though they were being punished for having national holidays off work.
According to one striking teacher who has worked with ECC for 3 years now, “It doesn’t feel like a holiday at all when you just have to make it up later on one of your normal rest days. It’s actually worse because we plan our routines based on our normal rest days, but ECC unilaterally disrupts that.”
The Proof in the Pudding
ECC insists that this policy was designed with fairness in mind, so that teachers do not have a disparate amount of work days throughout the year.
This explanation does not stand up to scrutiny however. Back in 2019, General Union issued a survey open to all Teaching Staff at ECC – union and non-union. The results were conclusive:
When asked if they would rather keep the “EQ Day” system or abolish it completely, a whopping 93% of respondents said they would rather abolish the system.
When asked if their time was used efficiently during “EQ Days,” 81% of respondents replied, “not efficiently, I really would rather have my day off,” while another 12.5% responded that the system felt unnecessary.
Finally, when asked if they felt that the “EQ Day” system was explained to them fairly before they took the job, 53% said “no,” and 19% said “somewhat.”
It should be surprise, then, that unionized Teaching Staff have consistently pressed for the abolition of the policy. Year after year, demands for the abolition of the system have been submitted to ECC.
In response, the company guilelessly leveraged temporary reductions to “EQ Days” against other demands of the union in a failed attempt to break the solidarity of the workers.
More Work, Less Money
On top of this, stagnant wages have become unbearable for teachers and their frustration has reached a climax now.
As taxes and food prices have gone up, they have been left in the dust with miniscule annual raises often amounting to 5 or 10 yen/hour – scarcely enough to cover the cost of hand sanitizer and disposable masks that have been required in almost every public space for 2 years.
One union member told us, “I risked exposing myself to Coronavirus for ECC. If I caught it, I would lose a lot of money in quarantine – but ECC thinks I don’t deserve a pay raise for taking this risk for years?”
This year, teachers made two simple demands truly based on fairness: grant a pay raise to workers and abolish the useless “EQ Day” system.
Now that ECC cannot seem to find a way to leverage one demand against the other, it has clammed up, forcing its employees to go on strike.
Solidarity with Striking Workers!
Striking is your right in Japan if you are in a labor union. The decision to strike is never made rashly or quickly, but the language industry professionals standing up to ECC’s management care deeply about their colleagues at work and their actions are sure to have reverberations across the foreign language teaching industry.
So we say, “solidarity with General Union members! Solidarity with ECC workers!”