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Friday, October 16, 2009

Problems at Work in Japan: The Labour Laws are Broken Everywhere

by Kevin Burns

Read More about Teaching English in Japan

Frequently you hear of people complaining that the English school they work for requires them to do this or that and isn`t following the law.

Granted that is a shame and is wrong. Not to mention illegal!
But frankly, it seems at times that no one in Japan is following the law.

For example:
Today is Saturday, and my wife will be paid 2,500 Yen for the weekend to work for her publically owned junior high school. This is not a private high school. It is owned by the Japanese government, or all of us that pay taxes. Yet it appears to me that her school doesn`t follow Japanese labour laws. In other words, a government owned school is not following its own laws.

This school is not alone. It seems all across the spectrum that Japanese companies and educational institutions ignore the law. Employees work overtime
unpaid, and uncomplainingly. This happens each week for many employees at Japan`s top companies and below. Most of the Japanese I know, tell me routinely that they are working overtime unpaid. It is common practice here.

Some universities and other educational institutions require teachers to work for no extra pay on Japanese national holidays. They give a holiday on an alternate day,
however I imagine this too breaks some labour law. I would imagine that by law
we should be paid overtime.

So while I sympathize with teachers in a tough situation and feel it is unfair.
I also recognize I am in the same boat, and so is Hiroshi across the street. The whole country is breaking the labour laws. Is that right?


Should we do something about it?


Let`s not isolate the debate to Eikaiwa (English schools), every industry in the country is the same in Japan. You could argue that, that is why the suicide rate is one of the highest in the developed world. Recently Japan again set a new
record for the number of suicides.

Could it be that we all need to slow down? Smell the green tea. Or even have time to get some counseling before things reach the breaking point.

What am I doing about it? Not much. I write as I am doing now, but probably like a lot of you, I am just thankful to have a job, and not be out on the street.
I have a house to pay for and three children.

When one of the schools I work for (a university) told all of us we would be working on national holidays, there was not a peep in protest from any one of us. We are all scared to be out of work. We all have bills to pay. The labour laws are not followed in Japan.

Many people are forced to work on the so-called "Happy Mondays" holidays. Many
English schools have followed suit as many companies are also requiring their employees to work on public holidays for no additional pay--they get their regular
monthly salary.

I guess I feel that overall I have a good situation. Another school I teach for closed due to the flu and we are paid yet I get to have the days off. So the pendulum does swing.

It`s a bit of a mystery as to why Japan has some strong labour laws but flaunts them
everywhere. One theory I have is that they are seen as a foreign imposition, brought to Japan by General Macarthur and the Americans, and imposed by a well-meaning yet a foreign power that didn`t/couldn`t understand Japan.

Japanese still think they are unique.

Historically there have been some very bloody labour disputes in Japan. Lives were lost and much tragedy occurred for both sides. So perhaps many Japanese are a little gun-shy of labour disputes.

Yet as the economic and social situation worsens in this country with an aging population and little immigration to stem the tide of bills that a smaller population will have to pay in support of the geriatrics, you can bet that we will
see more suicides and more labour disputes unless things change.

*Allowing widespread immigration would be a step in the right direction but I digress.

While the teachers unions can work towards ending unfair labour practices and it is a worthy goal, we have to recognize that it isn`t just the English schools, the universities or the public schools that are at fault, it is indeed a Japan wide problem and so ingrained in this hard-working culture that it will probably take
decades to change.

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