Shame on Berlitz Japan for its court harassments, firing teacher for having cancer


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Hi Blog. Shame on Berlitz Japan for its harassment of employees in court, and for firing people for their union activities (illegal under labor law) and for having cancer. This sort of thing should not be allowed in a civilized labor union market. But of course, especially in Japan’s Eikaiwa market, that’s assuming a lot. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


The Japan Times Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Talks drag on, teachers fired in Berlitz case
By JAMES McCROSTIE, courtesy of Kevin (excerpt)

After 20 months of legal wrangling, neither side has managed to snag a win in Berlitz Japan’s ¥110 million lawsuit against five teachers and their union, Begunto.

On the recommendation of the case’s lead judge, the company and union have been in court-mediated reconciliation talks since December. The agreement to enter the talks came after a year of court hearings into the suit…

Louis Carlet, one of the union officials being sued, describes progress at the once-a-month, 30-minute negotiating sessions as “glacially slow.”…

The battle between Berlitz Japan and Begunto began with a strike launched Dec. 13, 2007, as Berlitz Japan and its parent company, Benesse Corp., were enjoying record profits. Teachers, who had gone without an across-the-board raise for 16 years, struck for a 4.6-percent pay hike and a one-month bonus. The action grew into the largest sustained strike in the history of Japan’s language school industry, with more than 100 English, Spanish and French teachers participating in walkouts across Kanto.

On Dec. 3, 2008, Berlitz Japan claimed the strike was illegal and sued for a total of ¥110 million in damages. Named in the suit were the five teachers volunteering as Begunto executives, as well as two union officials: the president of the National Union of General Workers Tokyo Nambu, Yujiro Hiraga , and Carlet, former NUGW case officer for Begunto and currently executive president of Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union (Tozen)…

Another of the teachers named in the suit, Catherine Campbell, was fired earlier this month after taking too long to recover from late-stage breast cancer cancer. In June 2009, Campbell took a year of unpaid leave to undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Because Berlitz Japan failed to enroll Campbell in the shakai hoken health insurance scheme, she was unable to receive the two-thirds wage coverage it provides and had to live with her parents in Canada during treatment. The company denied Campbell’s request to extend her leave from June to Sept. 2010 and fired her for failing to return to work.

Berlitz Japan work rules allow for leave-of-absence extensions where the company deems it necessary.

“If cancer is not such a case, what would be?” Campbell asks. “On one hand, I’m lucky to be alive and healthy enough to even want to go back to work, so everything else pales in comparison,” she explained. “But on the other, the company’s decision does seem hard to understand. The leave is unpaid, and I don’t receive any health benefits, so it wouldn’t cost Berlitz anything to keep me on; and for me, it’s that much harder to restart my life without a job.”

Rest of the article at

17 comments on “Shame on Berlitz Japan for its court harassments, firing teacher for having cancer

  • Good. Hopefully these painfully slow talks will keep Berlitz Tokyo permanently offline. As far as I know Berlitz shut down its Tokyo operations as a result of the strike. But on the other hand it’s also keeping these employees from a long overdue change in working conditions and keeping them from their jobs, especially during a recession. But I don’t think any employee involved in this has any delusions of this clearing up anytime soon.

    In my opinion, there should be a sign erected big enough to warn all potential English teachers of the dangers of working in Japan in an Eiakawa chain outfit.

  • Guillaume says:

    This is indeed very shocking. But the situation is not limited to Eikaiwa chains. Between two research contracts, I had to work for a few months in an independent French language school in Tokyo. I did both teaching and management work, and what I discovered there really shocked me.
    During these few months, I have witnessed a number of irregularities. I tried without success to convince the owners of the company to start complying with local regulations. After my leaving, it came to my knowledge that one employee has been fired and has trouble obtaining any kind of paid vacation or employment insurance. The conditions of her dismissal also appear to be illegal.

    Here are some of the issues I witnessed:

    Labor issues
    1. No employee is covered by any form of health or pension insurance, although the company has more than 5 employees.
    2. The company does not register employees working more than 20 hours a week in the mandatory work insurance scheme. I was told I would be registered from early 2010, but it never happened, although I was working full time, 6 days a week (50 h/w on average).
    3. The company sponsors several foreign workers for work visas but the work contracts provided to immigration authorities do not correspond to real working conditions. Basically, each teacher is paid on a per hour basis (without any guarantee of minimal income), while the official contracts stipulate that these teachers should be working full time with a guaranteed monthly income. Employees cannot denounce these working conditions, because they are under the threat of dismissal.
    4. No paid vacation is usually paid. I was one of the first employees (if not the first) to successfully obtain 10 paid vacation days when I resigned from the company. The owner is known for having anger management problems, and my demands for a few paid vacation days were met with insults, threats and subsequent harassment.
    5. Salaries are usually paid late. For several employees, salaries were a few months late. This situation has apparently been lasting for several months or maybe years. It seems that current employees are still being paid late.
    6. The company may not pay premiums for workers accident compensation insurance (although I am sure about this).
    7. Management of income tax payments is very lax. For at least one employee paid on a weekly basis, a few months worth of payments had not been paid (I identified the situation but I left before knowing whether this problem has been addressed).
    8. The owners are thinking to decrease wages in the near future, without the approval of employees.

    Other issues
    1. The owner keeps smoking in the school, including in the kitchen and in front of children. Many employees and some customers complained about the smoke in classrooms and public areas, but the owner claims he can do “whatever he wants” in his own house. While this may not be illegal regarding to current Japanese law, this constitutes nonetheless a real health risk for employees and students (particularly children who attend classes in the school).
    2. Kitchen area is very dirty and does not comply with basic health and safety standards.
    3. More generally, there is no serious bookkeeping. Private and corporate finances are not separated.

    The owners are absolutely reticent to any serious discussion about these problems or to elaborate a plan of action in order to improve this situation.

  • —In my opinion, there should be a sign erected big enough to warn all potential English teachers of the dangers of working in Japan in an Eiakawa chain outfit.—

    Thanks to the internet I think it’s common knowledge (or should be) that most teaching jobs in Japan are best suited for a short-stay.

  • Peter McArthur says:

    In answer to TJJ’s question:

    Some people will tell you that shakai hoken is a legal requirement for all workers. This is true only in the very narrow, technical sense that the law says so. (If you think I’m being ironic, you don’t understand the Japanese legal system.)

    In practice, shakai hoken is only a requirement if employees work more than 3/4 of “full time hours”, which is usually interpreted as meaning 30 hours or more / week. Many eikaiwa claim that, since their teachers have no more than 29.5 classroom hours, shakai hoken is not a requirement. It stinks, but they’ve been getting away with it for years.

  • As I’ve been saying for at least the past year, since Catherine is Canadian, I’m fairly certain that the Canada-Japan social security totalization treaty required Berlitz Japan to enroll Catherine in the Shakai Hoken. ( This was one of my blog comments on this same Japan Times article: )

    Article 4 of that treaty says that Japan promises equal treatment of Canadians with regards to Shakai Hoken. I’m confident this means if the black-letter law says “Shakai Hoken”, then that is what Catherine should have gotten. I don’t think “equality” means if Japanese cheat foreigners from many different countries on the issue, then they are treating Canadians “equally” if they also cheat the Canadians (or if they happen to let a lot of Japanese companies slide on the issue).

    The people on the other side of that negotiating table expected the Japanese to honor their side of the bargain. Yet, I don’t hear anyone from General Union/NAMBU or the new Tozen going down to the Canadian Embassy and pointing this out.

    Usually embassies try to avoid involving themselves in labor issues here. As I say with America’s, since it gets in the way of the good time the stationed officials get to have in Japan (for all I know). But usually other Anglosphere countries are pretty responsible about watching out for their citizens, so I am surprised Catherine’s situation is what it is on the disability payments.

    (So Canada gives to Japanese in Canada, and Canadians get ripped off in Japan. Tamogami-inspired World War II reparations is this?)

    The other point with Berlitz Japan that is a big concern is that even though it’s owned by Benesse, a Japanese company, it does business through an intermediate American corporation, Berlitz International, headquartered in New Jersey. (I used to work in an office park in the general vicinity.) And Berlitz gets multimillions in U.S. federal contracts. Why hasn’t the union been seeking out American remedies for the named lawsuit defendants who are American? This would be quite a story back home: a Japanese company denies Americans basic benefits that Japan agreed to under a similar social security totalization treaty, yet grabs federal money via a subsidiary that everyone thinks is an American company.

    Never mind the fact that Japan routinely ignores its union/collective bargaining laws and companies routinely dismiss workers who speak up about that, if not try to get them kicked out of the country by one means or another.

  • Ah, here it is: the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA)

    Under definitions, 38 U.S.C. section 4303:

    “(3) The term ’employee’ means any person employed by an employer. Such term includes any person who is a citizen, national, or permanent resident alien of the United States employed in a workplace in a foreign country by an employer that is an entity incorporated or otherwise organized in the United States or that is controlled, by an entity organized in the United States,”

    The bolded “control” is a legal term of art. You have to find out how “control” is being defined for purposes of the Act.

    The reservist who was let go by Berlitz Japan may have a claim with Berlitz International in New Jersey — even though Benesse, the ultimate parent, is a Japanese corporation.

  • Hoofin,
    Good and well written post. I never really saw it like that, but I’m not really surprised. I never knew that Benesse took a slice of the American pie.
    This Japanese attitude of ‘what is yours is mine and what is mine is mine’, whether it be about trade, parental rights or basic medical insurance, is really wearing.
    However the inertia of outside authorities to force Japan to comply with international commitments is equally frustrating.
    Sometimes I think that Debito should devote more time to pressurizing non-Japanese government bodies into forcing Japan to comply with her treaty commitments, rather than bother with the concerned Japanese body.
    Working within the system, in Japan, seems a total waste of time. Wasn’t that the lesson of Savoie trying to ‘kidnap’ his children back to the USA?

  • “The owners are absolutely reticent to any serious discussion about these problems or to elaborate a plan of action in order to improve this situation.”

    Its because there is really nothing you can do except take them to court and they know it. I once worked for a company that stopped paying its employees. We worked for free. The wife took it up with the labor office, I believe its called the rodan something sho, and they only issue warnings. Its like one big family or something, the companies interest always come first. They have steps you go through, we exhausted all of them. The final step was court. There was an old guy who did some negotiating with us, then the saiban cho came into the room. The negotiator actually sided with the shacho, after all he gave me, the gaijin a job. The sabain cho fortuanetly sided with me and the wife. I got back pay for 3 months. The other members of the herd didnt get nothing because they wouldnt go to court, only complain, sort of a group mentality deal. Its scary, so be careful. Even if you end up in court, you better have proof of any and all wrong doings. In this case the evidence was overwhelming. The shacho tried to make me sign a gomenasai letter, causing the saiban cho to laugh. The labor office wont do shit for you, I dont even know what they are there for.

  • “As I say with America’s, since it gets in the way of the good time the stationed officials get to have in Japan (for all I know). ”

    Having worked in both the private J sector and with the US gov here, I can only say, if you only did know what actually went on. The “good time” is an understatement. There are guys that actually own houses on US army bases here in Japan and been here over 40 years, rent/utility, and for all practical purposes, work free. Some are reported millionaires, because they stash that cost of living allowance all those years and their wives are MLC base worker, receiving nice bonus and benefits from GOJ. The base houses are called P houses I think, something about they bought them for like a few dollars or something I heard. So they live on the base forever. A joke for a job, paid all by GOJ/USG taxes and cheap gas, utilities paid etc. I could go on, especially what I saw some diplomats get away with, but Ill stop there.

  • I quit Berlitz in 1993 and still am glad I did it.
    The only regret is having spent seven years of my life in that greedy outfit, that at the height of the Bubble would hire drunk truck drivers and other drifters as long as they spoke English, and present them to their 8,100 yen a lesson clientele as expert language instructors with university degrees…

  • Berlitz shutting down centers worldwide due to poor level of classes – Mistreatment of employees. Taiwan – Korea – Australia – USA –

    — Link please to source.

  • Wouldn’t surprise me. From my own experience as a former employee I would say, students don’t learn because of Berlitz, but despite Berlitz… :-/.

  • Edward W Henderson says:

    I worked at Berlitz for 15 years from 1980 to 1995. It sounds like I got out of Japan just in time to avoid the mayhem. Under Jacques Meon (former President of Berlitz Japan) and Richard LeBlanc (Director of Method and Personnel) everyone was treated fairly. The pay was OK and we always got a yearly pay increase. There was no need for a union at that time. I guess those were the good old days. Just sorry to hear that the working conditions have deteriorated.

    Regarding the SHAKAI HOKEN (National Health Insurance), at the time I was there it was up to the employee to register for it at their Ward Office. Before leaving Japan, my good friend, the Dispatcher for all the Tokyo schools at HQ, had a sudden stroke. As it turned out even though he had never registered for National Insurance, he was still able to get medical care in Japan until he was stable enough to be sent back to the US.

    I agree the Berlitz Method TM can be very monotonous, but I got so I could do it without any real effort and I always managed to keep a positive attitude (even toward the students who had very little ability to learn English). If you don’t have that ability then you shouldn’t be teaching English at Berlitz.

    In closing, I would just like to say if you are employed as an English teacher in Japan you should consider yourself lucky. If you come back to the US, with over 9% unemployment, you have about as much of a chance to find a job as you do to hit the lottery. Trust me there are no job postings that list experience as an English Teacher at Berlitz Japan as a plus! If you decide to stay in Japan, your chances of finding any other type of employment are even slimmer! So, stop complaining!

    Try these on your next student . . .

    Am I a teacher?
    Am I unemployed?
    What am I?
    Am I a teacher or unemployed?
    If I returned to the US would I be unemployed?
    If I returned to the US would I be employed?
    What would I be if I returned to the US?
    If I returned to the US would I be employed or unemployed?

    A shout out to Sile Ferry, Sara Allen and Paul. Keep in touch.

    Edward Henderson

  • —In closing, I would just like to say if you are employed as an English teacher in Japan you should consider yourself lucky.—

    Not really. I think most teaching jobs in Japan are pretty crummy these days. If I had to choose between working a dull clerk position at a Walgreens back home or teaching as an ALT or as a language school teacher in Japan I would choose Walgreens.


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