Japan Times: “Five-year rule” triggers “Tohoku college massacre” of jobs; harbinger of a larger looming purge, sez Debito.org

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Hi Blog. Debito.org has talked at length about the “Great Gaijin Massacre of 1992-4,” where National and Public Universities decided to terminate en masse (at the urging of the Ministry of Education) their foreign faculty who were over 35 years old 1) as a cost-cutting measure, and 2) because they could — since most NJ were on contract employment (meaning one could be “fired” through a simple contract non-renewal), while full-time J faculty were almost always employed on permanent non-contracted tenure from day one. “Academic Apartheid” is what respected scholars such as Ivan Hall called it. And conditions have not really gotten better, as (again through government design) more full-time Japanese faculty are being put on contract employment themselves, while far fewer full-time NJ are being granted permanent tenure.

Now we have a new looming massacre. The labor laws changed again in 2013 to require employers to stop keeping people on perpetual renewable contract status. After five years of employment, employers must switch them to permanent noncontracted status. Well, the five-year mark is April 1, 2018, meaning there is an incentive for employers to fire people before they hit a half-decade of employment. Debito.org said before that that would happen, and there were some doubters. But here’s the first published evidence of that happening, at Tohoku University, courtesy of our labor law expert at the Japan Times.  After all these years of service, even less job security awaits. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

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‘Five-year rule’ triggers ‘Tohoku college massacre’ of jobs
by Hifumi Okunuki
The Japan Times, Nov 27, 2016
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2016/11/27/issues/five-year-rule-triggers-tohoku-college-massacre-jobs/

I have discussed the “five-year rule” several times before in this column — the revision of the Labor Contract Law (Rodo Keiyaku Ho) enacted in 2013. Under the amendment, any worker employed on serial fixed-term contracts (yūki koyō) for more than five years can give themselves permanent status. See my earlier stories for more details, particularly my March 2013 column, “Labor law reform raises rather than relieves workers’ worries.”

The amendment was supposed to give workers more job security. Or at least that is what lawmakers claimed the purpose was. From the start I had my doubts — doubts that are now being borne out.

The fact is, employers are using the amendment as an excuse to fire their workers or change their working conditions before April 2018. When the law was enacted, it was not grandfathered to entitle those who had already worked more than five years. That meant the clock started on April Fools’ Day, 2013, and that the first time it will be possible to use this purported job-security measure will be April 1, 2018.

After enactment, some employers put new hires on one-year contracts with a three-renewal limit, or a five-year maximum with no renewal possible afterwards. It seems obvious this was to avoid being restricted by the five-year rule, which is really a “more-than-five-year rule.” Other employers are planning to either change their employees’ working conditions or fire or nonrenew their employees over the coming year, 2017. Again, it seems obvious that their intention is to avoid the new law and thereby violate its job-security spirit.

And this month I’ll name names — or a name in this case. This month’s installment delves into the “Tohoku University massacre.” This prestigious, famous and respected college with a long history and tradition has revealed that it plans not to renew the fixed-term contracts of up to 3,200 employees when they next come up for renewal. This kind of move — effectively a mass firing — is rare in Japan, and the plan has already had a huge impact in education and labor-law circles.

Rest at http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2016/11/27/issues/five-year-rule-triggers-tohoku-college-massacre-jobs/

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16 comments on “Japan Times: “Five-year rule” triggers “Tohoku college massacre” of jobs; harbinger of a larger looming purge, sez Debito.org

  • Well, I work at TU, and there has been a lot of union activity around this.

    On a related note, I have heard that teaching staff are not subject to this 5-year rule because universities got an exemption to the law. Instead there is a 10-year rule for teachers.

    Does anyone know about this?

  • Yes, this is exactly what JAMSTEC promised back in 2012/3, which is pretty much why I walked out. In fact, their original plan was for all employees to have a 6 month “break” at the end of their 5 years – yes really, we were expected to have 6 months of unemployment, before taking another 5 year contract with them, and so on indefinitely. Remarkably, this policy wasn’t just some idiot brainfart that got immediately laughed out of existence, but was actually developed and approved by the top management and promulgated thoughout the company before some of us (well me anyway) pointed out how fantastically idiotic it was. (It was about that time that I stopped playing at being polite to my middle-manager, who had “explained” this new plan to his group with a straight face.)

  • Does anyone know how this applies to uni hijoukin? Let’s say he/she has 2 classes and the uni decides not to violate the spirit of the Article 19 “yatoidome” and allow them to continue working beyond 5-year point, does the uni have to guarantee 2 classes in perpetuity? Or just one class? The article doesn’t really stipulate any difference between full-time and part-time workers.

  • @Sendaiben,

    I’ve read that there are universities which allow teachers to renew a 3 year contract twice, for a total of 9 years. Someone posted this on Dave’s ESL Cafe forum a few weeks ago. So maybe what you have heard is correct. Sendaiben, are you on a contract at TU or a permanent, regular faculty member?

  • Two questions about the 雇い止め law:

    1. According to a pamphlet from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare website (http://www.mhlw.go.jp/seisakunitsuite/bunya/koyou_roudou/roudoukijun/keiyaku/kaisei/dl/h240829-01.pdf) (bottom half of page 3), “…使用者が雇止めをすることが、「客観的に
    合理的な理由を欠き、社会通念上相当であると認められないとき」は、雇止めが認めら
    れません。従前と同一の労働条件で、有期労働契約が更新されます。”

    Doesn’t this mean that part-time staff can’t just be randomly fired (for the 5-year rule or any other reason)?

    2. In the case of university faculty and staff, isn’t the rule 10 years (not 5) anyway? (From http://www.mhlw.go.jp/file/06-Seisakujouhou-11200000-Roudoukijunkyoku/0000043387.pdf)

    Any insight would be much appreciated!

  • Chickens coming home to roost IMHO. After all, how many of those Japanese faculty stood up for their NJ colleagues? Yeah, I thought so, not many.

    Well now I can just sit back and laugh at them while they have to ‘gaman’. They should be good at that, it’s one of the ‘unique Japanese’ things that ‘we Japanese’ have but NJ don’t after all.

  • J, they may not be able to “randomly fire” you but that doesn’t mean they can’t just make up some bullshit excuses, which you can then spend a year or two fighting and then find out that enforcement is nonexistant even if you win…

    Some JAMSTEC staff did go on a tenure track (no idea how that has progressed since) but the decision as to who did and who didn’t was made without any rational thought or basis, it was just the fall-out of arbitrary decisions made some years earlier about allocation of staff to different funding streams.

  • No, it is just a few places.
    I have heard of nine years at one place and ten at another.
    Both are in Kanagawa.
    But, after three years one has to re-apply for work.
    The goal is to get people with doctorates to replace those with MAs.
    Or, get a 5 year contract then re-apply. After ten years, goodbye, good luck getting work.

    Here is some news: Komazawa will get rid of some part-time teachers. (Last hired, first hired).
    YCU may get rid of teachers by giving them work in the spring semester only.
    Thus, people would quit. Then the idea is to give full-timers 12 or 13 koma, instead of the 10 they currently have.

  • Sorry, first fired, I mean.

    I did hear from a teacher who said that after 2018 there should be more university students due to the increase in the birthrate after 2000. Long term trends don’t look too good.

  • @ Sendaiben #8,

    Some kind of special ‘track’ to tenure, yes, you’ve said that on Debito.org before and as I said before, you still sound just like every NJ university teacher on a rolling one year contract who’s jaw hit the floor when the time for that tenure arrived, and the university admin office had to explain to them that it was ‘regrettable’ that tenure wouldn’t be forthcoming despite the NJ teacher having what they believed was a verbal agreement (ah, it’s a ‘misunderstanding’).

    If you get tenure, do let us know. You will genuinely be the first case I have ever heard of.

    Now, if you had a promise of tenure in writing, with hankos and all, it might change my mind.

    I think that they are stringing you along and will pull the rug out from under you.

  • @Sendaiben,

    Okay, so I could understand it if you were a little nervous about your status there right about now. A contract is a contract, and so the university management can still choose to not renew it.

    @Jim Di Griz,

    I agree with you 100%. I would not trust the university at this point in light of what has happened int he past. It was not mentioned in the article, but Waseda University also had a mass culling of part-time teaching staff back in 2013 or 2014 after the new law was passed. I haven’t read anything about it in the last few years, though.

  • Thanks, @Jim #12 😉

    I doubt you could be as cynical as I am (one of my seminal experiences is losing my job at short notice in 2008 under exactly those circumstances), which is why I say ‘allegedly’. I’ll belive it when I have the hanko’d jirei in my clammy hands.

    All in all I think it’s fairly likely I (along with some of my colleagues) will get tenure next year as planned by my centre. They are churning out stupid amounts of paperwork to set up the conditions, etc. If that happens I will be glad to let you know.

    If it doesn’t happen I’m not too bothered. I have five years left on my current contract and a Plan B (and Plan C too). I’ll be fine either way 😀

  • I also work at Tohoku University. I’m fortunate in that I have tenure but these days it seems that the only new hires who get tenure are full professors.

    The April 2018 job cull affects everyone, not just academics. Our secretary has been told she will be out of a job in 2018, as will many others.

    The background to this is that the university budget has been cut by 1% per year for at least the past ten years. The result is a stagnant salary and decreasing benefits. Last month they announced that the allowance for spouses will be phased out (Y13000 per month). I guess they are supporting the government’s goal of “encouraging” spouses to work by impoverishing the main wage earners.

    At the same time we are told that we should aim to be a “world leading” university, or whatever the phrase of the moment is. Meanwhile, we sink further down the global league tables, along with other Japanese universities.

  • I also work at Tohoku University and was recently promoted from contract to tenure, in part because of the 5 year rule, so it is not impossible. Yet, as seen here, a hard-nosed, neo-liberal management are going to implement this as grudgingly as possible, which sours relationships throughout the institution.

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