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Monday, 16 October 2006
Ticket to ride

Update on travel issues at Berlitz  

Berlitz teachers will see improvements in working conditions related to travel time and costs starting next month. Labour management negotiations on this years' shunto demands concluded with a series of agreements guaranteeing that teachers will be paid the actual costs of transportation to and from work, as well as an increased allowance for travelling longer distance. Teachers will also have the right to refuse assignments over a certain distance from their base school.

A separate agreement allows the union president to use company equipment including fax machine and photocopier. Mr. Fukutake has yet to offer us rides in his airplane, but this is good for a start.


Posted by begunto at 5:39 PM KDT
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Tuesday, 14 March 2006
Berlitz employees pay own train fare, while CEO cruises in private plane

The Japan Company Handbook 2006 assessment of Benesse states: "Language Division sharply turning profitable on improved earnings of Berlitz". And CEO Soichiro Fukutake sits comfortably at No. 437 on the Forbes list of billionaires.
According to the Herald-Tribune, "Weekends, as often as not, he circles the sea in his private plane" We assume they mean the skies above the sea, but in any case, the union has no objection to Mr. Fukutake's mode of travel; however, if he is cruising the skies in a private plane, why am I paying my own train fare to a Berlitz LC from home?

BEGUNTO's shunto demands for 2006 include several items related to travel, including pay for all transportation and travel time:
1) Compensation for all transportation costs, including from home.
This is what is written in the contract, with no exceptions for travels from home to non-base LC's inside or outside Tokyo. Management has indicated willingness to revise travel policy, but in the meantime, why are we paying our own train fare to non-base LC's? The union wants to see travel policy brought into line with the contract immediately, and teachers compensated for travel expenses incurred up til now.
2) Compensation for all travel time, including from home.
Time spent on the train is not free time. A reasonable commute is a major factor in deciding where to live and where to work. If Berlitz wants teachers to be willing to travel anywhere on the Kanto plain, they had better compensate us for the time spent getting there.
3) Right to refuse travels in blocked time
If you block your schedule from 4:45, do you want Berlitz scheduling you to travel from 3:15 to teach at an LC in the next prefecture? Are you willing to reserve 2-3 travels worth of time before your scheduled working hours at Berlitz, just in case they need a teacher in the depths of Chiba/Saitama/Kanagawa? For the sake of comparison, note that even NOVA doesn't expect that much.

If you agree that the above changes would be an improvement in your working conditions, do something about it.. join the union!

Posted by begunto at 11:48 AM JST
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Sunday, 19 June 2005
In the news...
The following articles appeared in the Asahi Shimbun on June 6 and 7. The eikaiwa industry has been attracting attention in the press recently, not only with regard to the health insurance and employee pension issue, but also concerning the general decline in working conditions for teachers over the past few decades. Shrinking salaries and increasing workloads are problems throughout the industry, and are two good reasons for language teachers from every company to work together in order to improve working conditions for all.

Asahi Shimbun, June 6 (evening edition)
by Ari Hirayama

Foreign Teachers not enrolled in Employee Health Insurance
Foreign Language Schools Investigated

The Social Insurance Agency has launched a probe of all 750 companies operating foreign language schools on suspicion that the firms have been dodging insurance payments by not enrolling many of their foreign teachers in the Employee Pension and Health Insurance.
According to the Health Insurance Law and Employee Pension Law, anyone working in Japan for over two months must be enrolled in the employees? pension and health insurance systems, regardless of their nationality. While insurance premiums are shared between the employer and employee, many foreign teachers are not given sufficient information about the system, and end up non-enrolled. As a result, individuals are faced with paying the entire cost of medical treatment on their own. Issues such as this have led to demands for enrollment.

The Social Insurance Agency says that, although it has issued directives in the past to certain companies who had failed to enroll employees, there was no real improvement in the situation, prompting the current investigation.
A 2002 survey conducted by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry indicated that there were 15,800 foreign teachers and 1,010,000 students at language schools, where yearly sales were182.6 billion yen.
It is rare for the SIA to conduct a nationwide investigation of a single industry. The Agency says that in many cases, language schools do not explain that the system is mandatory, and do not enforce enrollment. In some cases, employees are offered a travellers? insurance policy provided by a subsidiary of the company that runs the language school.
At Berlitz, Japan, a large English language conversation school, out of 1200 foreign teachers, 100 are enrolled at their own request, while the rest remain outside the system.
The SIA is taking the situation very seriously, sending inspectors from Social Insurance bureaus nationwide to investigate the schools, examining working schedules and employment contracts; any eligible employees who have not yet joined the system will be enrolled.
The problem facing foreign teachers is that those who are not enrolled on the system can find themselves bearing the total cost of medical treatment on their own. A 32-year old British teacher working at major language school NOVA for five years, requested to join the employee pension and health insurance system, but was turned down by the school. He was injured on the job last year, and has bills for hospital visits and medical treatment of over 300,000 yen.
Representative of the Nova teachers union, Bob Tench, comments: ?More foreign teachers are putting down roots in Japan, and some of them have serious health problems resulting from illness or accidents. All full time teachers should be enrolled.?
Berlitz Japan?s Director of Employee Relations, Masanori Iwai, attributes the non-enrollment of foreign teachers to the fact that many teachers stay in Japan for only a short time. ?Many of them are not interested in joining the employee insurance system. However, we will do as the authorities say.?
At general headquarters of the largest language school, NOVA, a public relations spokesperson said that the person responsible could not be reached for comment.
The SIA?s Medical Insurance Division Chief, Noboru Sugiyama, says of the current probe: ?With demands for enrollment from both individuals and unions, we cannot leave things as they are.?

(Asahi Shimbun, June 7, morning edition)
by Ari Hirayama
Foreign Teachers
High Salaries: A Thing of the Past

There are said to be a million people attending foreign language schools in Japan. A 2002 study by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry put the number of foreign teachers employed by the schools at 15,800. More popular with students than their Japanese counterparts, an increasing number of foreign teachers stay in Japan for long periods of time. Non-enrollment in the supposedly obligatory employee pension and health insurance systems however is becoming an increasing problem, when teachers get sick and find themselves struggling to pay medical bills.
The SIA has taken the rare step of launching an investigation of the industry.
?Hello?. On a weekday afternoon at an English language school (eikaiwa), a 47-year-old British teacher greets his class of three, made up of housewives and university students. The students are eager to learn from a foreign teacher, saying ?their pronunciation is good?, or ? being in class feels like being in a foreign country?.
Working conditions for the teachers, however, can be in reality quite harsh.
Steve Brown, a 32-year old teacher from the UK who came to Japan five years ago, has been teaching 39 lessons a week at NOVA, the largest of the eikaiwas. Long hours of sitting on a metal folding chair led to back pain, which began a year and a half ago. Unable to endure the pain, he sought treatment at a hospital, which cost him 300,000 yen last year alone. He is still paying 7,000 yen per visit to the doctor, and 9,000 yen for rehabilitation therapy. The bills are so high because he is not enrolled in the employees? health insurance system and therefore pays the full cost himself.
He has trouble walking and cannot go to work at the school. With no income for the past four months, he was unable to pay his rent of 83,000 yen, and was forced to move out of his apartment and stay with a friend.
When hired by NOVA, he was advised to purchase the travellers? insurance provided by a subsidiary of the same company, or to seek other private health insurance. The existence of a public insurance system was never mentioned.
?If I?d known about it from the start, I?d have joined,? he says.
Another English language teacher living in Tokyo was billed 700,000 yen after an illness of the internal organs sent him to hospital twice last year. The 38-year old Canadian, forced to bear the entire cost alone, appealed to his company to enroll him in the employee?s health insurance system. They refused.
Problems heard in Diet
Many foreign teachers come to Japan as workers on the ?Specialist in Humanities/International Services? visa. Those who work for more than two months are obliged to join the Health Insurance and Employees? Pension system regardless of nationality. However, the number of foreign teachers not enrolled in the system is startlingly high.
Throughout the entire eikaiwa industry, people who should be enrolled are not. This violation of the law is what prompted the SIA to launch an investigation of all 750 firms operating foreign language schools.
In March of this year, the Osaka General Union, which counts approximately 400 English language teachers in the Kansai area among its members, held a press conference announcing its intention to lodge a criminal complaint against NOVA, the largest eikaiwa, for failure to enroll roughly 6,000 foreign teachers in the public insurance system.
The problem has even been raised in the Diet by a Democratic Party of Japan representative, who, late last year, set up a forum for discussion of foreign English teachers? rights.
In response, the industry continues to drag its feet on the question of enrollment, saying that many teachers stay here for only a short time before returning to their home countries, and thus do not want to join the pension or health insurance systems.
NOVA claimed that the person in charge could not be reached for comment.

The eikaiwa industry got its start in the period after the Second World War, when Japan was occupied by the US military. Thirty years ago, a typical lesson consisted of 20-35 people reciting aloud in unison, following the preferred method of the time. According to a labour union spokesperson familiar with the eikaiwa business, teachers in the 1970?s received monthly salaries of 300,000 yen for 20 hours of work, which they often supplemented with outside teaching jobs, giving them a total income of as much as 600,000 yen per month, double that of the average salaryman.
Reforms to the Immigration Control Act in the 1990?s, however, meant that it was no longer necessary to have a guarantor in order to work at a language school. The visa application process became easier, and the number of foreign teachers soared. With the trend for internationalization in full swing, languages schools sprang up in every corner of the country.
TV commercials and advertising campaigns reflected an increasingly fierce competition for students. ?Small classes, low prices?, or ?Lessons when you want, with the teacher you want?, became selling points used by more and more schools.
As lesson fees dropped, teaching salaries were driven down as well.
The situation facing foreign teachers changed dramatically. Working hours doubled, while salaries shrank by half.
The industry, on the other hand, grew rapidly. According to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the number of foreign teachers employed at foreign language schools went from 11,600 in 1997 to four time that number in the space of five years. Foreign teachers outnumber Japanese teachers by approximately 6,700. The number of students, too, jumped from 720,000 in 1997, to 1,010,000 in 2002. Yearly sales for the industry reached 182.6 billion yen in 2002.
No authorization, however, is required to open a foreign language school, and there are no regulations governing curriculum, or treatment of teachers. Non-enrollment in health insurance is not the only problem facing foreign teachers ? labour consultants also frequently hear cases of abrupt dismissal.
A 30-year old British teacher, who makes a living by holding jobs at several different language schools, says frankly: ?I?m always thinking about how to keep the student in a good mood, so I don?t end up fired. I feel like a host in a club. That is not going to help them improve their English.?

Posted by begunto at 6:04 PM KDT
Updated: Sunday, 19 June 2005 6:13 PM KDT
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Tuesday, 23 November 2004
Risk management/Disaster preparation
You don't have to be a pessimist to think that Tokyo fits pretty closely the definition of "a disaster waiting to happen". Most responsible corporate citizens are aware of this fact, and take steps to ensure that their employees get regular training in emergency procedures. Berlitz, too, has developed (at the union's request) a manual on Risk Management, which should be posted in the LC. If you haven't seen it, please ask your IS or LCM. There are many good recommendations in this manual, including things that the union has been asking for all year, such as regular fire drills, and training to make sure all staff know how to get out of the building,etc.

The only problem, though, is that no one seems to have given any thought to implementation. If we are to prepare for a disaster that could happen at the workplace during working hours, then it makes sense that the preparation should also happen at the workplace, during working hours. The union is demanding paid methods for all staff to participate in drills and familiarize themselves with emergency procedures. Management has yet to come up with a concrete plan, but, in the meantime, all members are urged to bring this up with local management at their next staff meeting. As the manual itself warns, there is not much point reading it for the first time during a quake.

Posted by begunto at 8:12 PM JST
Updated: Friday, 26 November 2004 8:25 AM JST
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B.E Prepared
As all English teachers know, BE 5-8 can be extremely difficult to teach, and sometimes next to impossible if you don't happen to have an MBA , MEd, or both. In spite of this, management has so far been allowing teachers in some LC's to go into classrooms with no chance of looking over the material beforehand, with the result that students, instead of receiving a well-prepared, professional lesson, get to sit by while the teacher basically trains himself/herself to use the material.

The union brought this to the attention of management, and demanded that teachers be paid for the time necessary to prepare for lessons. Management at first expressed reluctance, claiming that Berlitz has traditionally paid prep time only for actual physical preparation - making photocopies for TOEIC classes, or collecting cards for kids' classes, etc. - and that preparation such as reading the manual was considered "familiarization" with the text, and had never been paid. The union doesn't particularly care what it is called - preparation, familiarization, whatever - but, if it means that the employee is spending time looking at a BE text instead of relaxing with a cup of coffee/having a smoke/reading the latest union update, it is WORK and must be paid. Management conceded that the matter of preparation needed to be reconsidered, and has promised a response this week. We look forward to a solution to this problem which has already gone on too long.

Posted by begunto at 8:11 PM JST
Updated: Friday, 26 November 2004 8:27 AM JST
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Monday, 11 October 2004
The Incredible Shrinking Teachers' Room
"Creating a comfortable workspace is an important part of any business. ... Large attractive rooms furnished with comfortable chairs and personal belongings...encourage feelings of pleasure, ambition and a desire to be an effective member of the workforce."

Ahh, good old MAE! Before the text goes entirely by the wayside, however, it would be worthwhile considering the jarring contrast between the wisdom of the passage above, and the actual conditions in which Berltiz employees are expected to work.

Since Berlitz announced plans to renovate several large LC's, and to close floors in some locations, teachers have naturally been concerned about the size of the teachers' rooms in the new layouts. The union brought up the matter of the decreasing size of teachers' rooms in new LC's during this year's shunto negotiations, and management responded that, while nothing could be done about existing schools (the closet-sized teachers' room at Shimbashi, for example), they would make changes in the design for new LC's.

Unfortunately that promise does not appear to have been kept in at least one redesigned LC, where a staff of nine is now forced to make do with seating for three (four at most, if you pretend to be riding the Chuo line at rush hour). A recent peek into the school revealed three teachers sitting in the teachers room, three sitting in the hall, and two wandering. Quite a difference from the previous layout which had two teachers' rooms, measuring 315x320cm, and 280x475cm, while the current space is a mere 234x305 - smaller than either of the two previous rooms. How teachers are expected to prepare for lessons while wandering the halls is a mystery to which HQ has yet to provide an answer.

Again, the union sees this situation as a result of the misguided expansion plan, and has requested some evidence from HR to support the decision to downsize the old schools rather than simply closing the new ones.
Refusal to share that evidence demonstrates once again the lack of a sincere commitment to transparency on the part of Berlitz management.

Posted by begunto at 12:01 AM KDT
Updated: Monday, 11 October 2004 12:26 PM KDT
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Tuesday, 7 September 2004
Shake it up baby

For all of you out there who were jostled out of bed this morning by shock waves from the earthquake in Wakayama, I would like to remind you that Berlitz has, at long last, in response to union demands, come up with Health and Safety procedures to deal with emergency situations. Among the procedures outlined is training in how to escape from the building, and how to lead customers out. So far, only managers have been given this training. The union has asked HR whether or not all employees will have a chance to participate in some kind of disaster preparation practice, but have not received a clear response. For obvious reasons, we believe that such training is urgently needed; please join us in demanding that HR demonstrate their concern for our safety by providing PAID training to all employees.

Posted by begunto at 1:41 PM KDT
Updated: Monday, 13 September 2004 2:31 PM KDT
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Monday, 6 September 2004
Power Harassment at Berlitz Japan
Union and HRD representatives met at BJHQ on Friday, September 3, in collective bargaining session to discuss the growing need for a detailed, comprehensive power harassment policy. Recently, there has been an increase in cases involving the abuse or discriminatory treatment of teachers on the LC level. These include arbitrary assignment of lessons, irregular processing of complaints against teachers, and fanciful reprimands for trivial dress-code infractions. This harassment results in a hostile environment with grave consequences for the quality of instruction and the satisfaction in the work performed by our members. The Union demands the policy to regulate the actions of managers and supervisors and to direct the course of fact-finding procedures in case of any grievance.
Too often, offenses against teachers go unreported, or else uncorrected when they are brought to the attention of the HRD, to the detriment of all. Due to the too-rapid expansion of LCs, inexperienced and manifestly ill-trained teachers are promoted to supervisory positions which require qualifications and skills with which they have not been provided by management. While we recognize the integrity and intelligence of the majority of supervisors, the failure of management to provide necessary and sufficient training has resulted in disruptions and discord in the LCs. To date, the Union has found Berlitz Japan derelict in its responsibility to provide and maintain a well-ordered environment for the teachers, and to protect them from the egregious treatment of a minority of supervisors and managers.
The subject of the current talks is the sequence of events at a suburban LC where, the Union maintains, supervisors subjected Union members to abusive and discriminatory treatment over an extended period. HRD was informed of these incidents at the time, but made no suitable nor timely response to correct these actions. In this initial collective bargaining session, the Union presented a 37-page document comprised largely of unanswered letters and reports concerning the actions of these supervisors to the HRD. In subsequent sessions, the Union will record management's considered response to these events. Members should document cases of discrimination or abuse and notify their Steward or Executive Committee of any incidents.

Posted by begunto at 12:02 PM KDT
Updated: Monday, 6 September 2004 7:15 PM KDT
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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Atsugi Action
BEGUNTO members leafletted on August 10 in front of Atsugi LC to show support for members being harassed by management at Shinjuku LC. Arbitrary and even imaginative application of the dress code (no white socks??) by local management is perhaps the reason why teachers there empathize so readily with their colleagues downtown.
Do local rules in your corner of Berlitz differ from what you were told at training? Or are they simply at variance with common sense? Join the union, and do something to improve your workplace!

Posted by begunto at 1:33 PM KDT
Updated: Tuesday, 17 August 2004 12:20 AM KDT
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Monday, 28 June 2004
Doing the Shinjuku shuffle!
Teachers employed at either Shinjuku-Nishi or the recently opened Shinjuku-Minami LC may find themselves scheduled to spend their 5-minute break racing along the streets between the two schools, which are separated by several blocks. Pretty hard to delight the customer when you are bathed in sweat, flipping through the textbook to find the right page. Surely University educated adults who have come so far to work wouldn't put up with these kinds of conditions? If you have any other examples of bizarre work conditions within your LC please send them along to with your suggestions about what you are willing to do about them.

Posted by begunto at 9:43 AM KDT
Updated: Wednesday, 30 June 2004 10:12 AM KDT
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