Hello Blog. Yesterday three friends and I visited the US Embassy in Tokyo to discuss employment and other issues of discrimination in Japan. The consular official who received us, a Mr Thomas Whitney, kindly gave us 90 minutes to give as much information as we liked for consideration in the US State Department Country Reports on Human Rights, an annual report given by the USG on individual countries that has in past years included information on even the Otaru Onsens Case (thanks). What follows are the summaries provided in advance of what we would say:
Workplace Apartheid in Japan
by Louis Carlet
Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union (“Tozen”)
See also Wikipedia article for Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union
Segregation of the workplace is standard practice in Japan, with open discrimination against foreigners. The following focuses on the conditions of foreign teachers, including US citizens.
Three types of foreign teachers predominate: English conversation, public and private school teachers and university teachers. All three groups are regularly kept out of Japan’s public health and pension system (“shakai hoken”) despite clear laws requiring enrollment.
This leads to serious problems in the event of sickness, injury or retirement. Hospitals provide inferior or no care to patients outside the system. Employees are deprived of sick pay guaranteed by the government Retirees find themselves with no pension benefits after decades of service.
Under pressure from unions and human rights groups to address the non-enrollment crisis in conversation schools, the Social Insurance Agence issued an openly discriminatory directive on May 19, 2005 targeting “foreign teachers.” By making it more difficult to enroll in shakai hoken, the SIA encouraged illegal non-enrollment of foreign teachers.
ALTs meanwhile are caught up in a system of fake-outsourcing (giso ukeoi). Schools outsource teaching of English to private firms offering the lowest bid. This results in a race to the bottom as well as non-enrollment in shakai hoken and unemployment insurance. Schools then shirk all employment responsibilty in the event problems arise.
ALT morale is extremely low as they are treated far worse than Japanese teachers literally standing next to them at the podium.
Finally, university teachers are openly given contracts “for foreigners” that lack all benefits that most teachers have. They receive a high per-class wage but nothing for work outside of class. Further, many foreign teachers are told they must leave after three, five or nine years, apparently because foreigners tend to lose their just-off-the-boat freshness.
Americans and other foreigners who teach in Japan find it nearly impossible to procure a steady job with normal benefits that Japanese teachers enjoy. The government refuses to take the action needed to move toward equality.
In 1992 I was hired by the University of Tokyo, the premier university of Japan, as the sole American lecturer. My contract specified exactly that I was hired as a citizen of the USA. My contract was a yearly one which was renewed 17 times.
I inquired about the pension situation, as was informed that at the end of 17 years of service, I would be eligible for an annuity funded by the government of Japan.
During 17 years I carried out my duties, taught pro bono several graduate courses, and represented the university in over ten publications and 8 international conferences as well as teaching courses with specific American content.
In 2005 I was informed that I would not be getting the annuity. It was allocated in a random fashion to five other nationals, myself and my Austrian colleague not being deemed eligible for the annuity. There were no clear criteria on why certain nationals received the annuity and certain other nationals did not. This in itself constituted a clear discrimination based on the Japanese Labor Standards.
I continued working until 2010 at the university and completed the required 17 years.
My main issue is not a specific labor issue (this is being addressed through a union), but the completely discriminatory manner in which certain nationals were arbitrarily excluded from the annuity due to them. The exclusion by nationality constitutes a grave human rights violation based on both international law and Japanese law. Of course, it was discriminataion in that as a foreigner I was not placed in an obligatory national pension scheme to start with.
This is a very brief summary.
The Japanese Government (GOJ) has a history of not abiding by its treaty obligations. With “Japanese Only” signs and rules in businesses nationwide (despite unlawfulness under both the Japanese Constitution and the UN CERD) and clear and present inequality towards non-Japanese in both the workplace and in protections under the law, Japan still has no national law with penalties against racial discrimination. The GOJ continues to make arguments to the UN against adopting one (i.e., freedom of speech and the efficacy of the Japanese judiciary for redress), while abuses towards non-Japanese and ethnically-diverse Japanese worsen (e.g., new and overt examples of hate speech and xenophobia, racist statements by politicians and media, even targeting of naturalized citizens for suspicion and exclusion). The GOJ has had more than a decade (having effected the CERD in 1996) to make legislative attempts to rectify this system, and its negligence presents ill precedent for abiding under future treaty signings (such as the Hague Convention on Child Abductions). Friends must help friends break bad habits, and gentle international pressure to assist the GOJ under a new reformist administration move in the right direction is a good thing for all concerned.
NB: Since our focus was on employment issues, I cited my experiences with TADD and Ambassador Mondale back in 1995 (See Ivan Hall CARTELS OF THE MIND), and the systematic full-time contracting of NJ in academia as witnessed through the Blacklist of Japanese Universities. I also mentioned that the GOJ has constantly refused attempts to release hard numbers on how many NJ academics in Japan have contracts vs tenure compared to Japanese academics getting contracts vs tenure (see more on this Academic Apartheid here). I also tied everyone’s presentations at the end with a request for USG visits to the Ministries of Education and Labor (following on Mondale’s precedent), to express awareness of the problem and the desire for proper enforcement of existing labor laws (if not the creation of a law against racial discrimination). Finally, I gave Mr Whitney the FRANCA handouts I gave the United Nations last March regarding general issues of discrimination in Japan (here and here).
Our fourth friend, Tokyo CalBear, talked about his experiences with arbitrary dismissals at the workplace and child abductions. I have no provided summary.
We’ll see how this comes out in next year’s State Department Country Report. Our thanks to the US Embassy Japan for hearing us out. Arudou Debito in Tokyo