Japan Times: Eikaiwa Gaba: “NJ instructors independent contractors w/o labor law coverage”, could become template for entire industry


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Hi Blog.  Dovetailing with yesterday’s post on NJ’s treatment at unemployment agency Hello Work, here’s more on how weak NJ’s position can be when they ARE hired, in this case by Eikaiwa company Gaba, who says their NJ staff aren’t covered by Japanese labor laws. Arudou Debito


THE JAPAN TIMES Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010
Gaba teachers challenge ‘contractor’ status
Union fears employment model could mark first step on slippery slope for eikaiwa firms
By JAMES McCROSTIE, courtesy of the author

Instructors first formed a union in September 2007 and, according to union members, met with company representatives for talks. However, managers always refused to enter into serious negotiations, arguing the instructors were not employees and, as itaku — independent contractors — weren’t covered by Japanese labor laws.

Determining who qualifies as an employee and who can be classed as an independent contractor isn’t always clear. However, the method in which workers are scheduled and their place of work are important considerations…

In its financial report, the company argues that because it doesn’t designate working time or location and doesn’t give specific instructions for lesson content, it considers its instructors to be independent contractors…

Japan’s Statistics Bureau’s annual Labor Force Survey shows the number of nonregular workers has increased steadily since 1999, after the Japanese government started relaxing regulations to make it easier for companies to hire workers outside their regular employment system. In 1999, 25.6 percent of Japan’s labor force was classified as nonregular. By 2009 the figure had increased to 33.7 percent.

Employing instructors as independent contractors allows Gaba to reduce labor costs… Combs warns that instructors at other schools may also face being shifted to independent contractor status in the future.

“Gaba lowers the bar on the entire industry, and it will tempt other companies to try the same thing,” he says.

Ringin agrees that the stakes are high in the union’s battle with Gaba over the individual contractor issue.

“If Gaba gets away with using the itaku system, Berlitz and the other chains would be crazy not to follow.”

Rest at http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20101019zg.html

21 comments on “Japan Times: Eikaiwa Gaba: “NJ instructors independent contractors w/o labor law coverage”, could become template for entire industry

  • Mattholomew III, Esquire says:

    Just another reason to stay the heck out of Japan if you’re interested in teaching English. One look at the ESL boards shows me that many, many other countries are offering round-trip flights, free housing, and paid vacations, while Japanese ESL jobs are basically charity work that will keep a roof over your head while you survive on a sturdy diet of instant noodles.

    No thank you.

  • ” Japanese ESL jobs are basically charity work that will keep a roof over your head while you survive on a sturdy diet of instant noodles.”

    But we ve got the anime and the manga, and the unique culture! Foreigners will continue to come to Japan regardless!

    (sarcasm only partly mine, I m paraphrasing various officials).

  • Regular Joe says:

    Strange. Of all the English teaching jobs I’ve done here, Gaba was far and away my favorite. I suppose the Itaku “employment” status sucks, particularly if you ever have any sort of dispute, but there really was (four years ago) a lot of independence for the teacher (as far as eikaiwa go at least.) You basically pulled in your own students, and you could make them “yours.” It feels independant, and I guess the itaku system reflects that.

    Good or bad? It felt good at the time. (At the time though, I was a bit more green. I might not take to it the same way nowadays.)

  • This is a common strategy to give workers the shaft/keep costs down in the US in certain professions already. I guess Japan is catching up to the US in this rather depressing category as well. Between this post and the last one, is there any reason for a foreigner to try to work in Japan at all? Eikaiwa really is getting very close to charity work, and with JET on the ropes Japan might as well give up on getting quality people – even people with a strong interest in Japan will think twice in this situation. Why even bother with English if every policy undermines the ability to succeed (from teaching and testing methods to low paid unqualified foreigners in the classroom)?

    There seems to be a weird issue here – if they are contractors, then how does the visa work? I’m guessing the law is basically written much like in the US where you “work” for a certian company, they just don’t pay you, you make money for the jobs you can rustle up and pay THEM a fee for various services (office space, supplies, phone and internet use)… All the years of workers fighting for their rights are slowly going backwards due to the current economic situtation.

  • Finally some more confirmation on what I’ve always assumed was true.

    “In 2009, the company spent nearly ¥854 million on advertising and about ¥637 million on labor costs for its 850 independently contracted instructors and 434 employees.”

    Eikaiwa throw away far more money on advertising than they put into the meager salaries. If they just funneled a bit more into making life better for teachers, improving training, or even bonuses for ESL qualifications or job performance, or even *gasp* cash incentives to teachers for recruiting new students, both teachers and students would surely be more satisfied, and business would improve. But no, this is eikaiwa. All cash must be wasted on ridiculously expensive advertising (such as spending 900,000 yen PER MONTH to put a large poster in a major rail station in Osaka, I checked. To some eikaiwa, 1 poster = 3 well-paid, happy teachers.) that everyone ignores anyway.

    Especially true for GABA, charging about 8000 per lesson but only giving the teacher 1500. It’s robbery, and I don’t see why anyone would volunteer (and it practically is volunteer work: unpaid transport, no benefits, having to wear a suit, unpaid down time between lessons, etc) to work for GABA except to use it as a base to steal away students for private lessons, but I digress.

  • I think the main difference lies in how the deal is worded to the employee at the time of hiring. My former employee said I would be “full time with visa sponsorship.” I interpreted that to mean, you know… a full-time employee. Actually “full time” just meant that I was supposed to work more hours than the part-timers and was guaranteed a minimum pay even during May, August, and January when there are long vacations. My current employer told me I would be a freelancer… The two contracts are actually worded more or less the same… they’re both freelance contracts, but my former employer NEVER spelled that out during any of the interviews and would try to guilt me into not taking vacations, etc, because I was “full time.” My current employer has always been upfront about it and the deal is, I only get paid for the amount I actually work BUT as long as I can live without that amount of pay I can come and go as I please.

    I have no problem with a company hiring someone as a contract laborer, but they need to let the person know that that is the type of contract being offered from the beginning. I wouldn’t take a “freelance” contract to teach English eight hours a day, five days a week… but to do it for a few hours on Skype seems reasonable. The problem I have with it is when companies are not COMPLETELY clear about that fact from the beginning, causing teachers to take jobs without fully understanding the fine print (especially for newcomers to Japan who might not be familiar with labor law here).

  • Hiring a person in contractual employment for full time work, has a lot in favour of the employer and very little by the way of rights for the employee. The employer can diassociate themselves from following the any laws applicable to Labour, Health, Social Security etc..

    In simple terms, all employers would favour contractual employment as it involves little responsibility on their part while providing ample opportunity for maximum exploitation. This will continue increasing until the laws of the land offer some protection, to the employees.

  • This is just a natural extension of Japan ignoring its own labor laws, and to some extent ignoring the treaties of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation. The simple fact is, with foreigner exploitation, the bureaucracies encourage both employers and businesses to take advantage in any creative way someone can up with; and then the government just sits on its hands.

  • The more I visit this Website, the more I think I’ll wait before settling in Japan… I’d lived in Kyûshû from 1998 to 1999 (Rotary exchange programme) and really loved this country (in spite of some retarded racists around me). I promissed myself I would get back to live over there, but as the situation goes (and will probably get worst because of other economical issues to come) I think I’ve better wait and see…

    By the way, Is there anyone who can tell me what is the situation now (Or where can I get informations) for those who would like to go to Japan to teach non-English European languages (Italian, French, German…) with an “Education Bachelor Degree” (Sorry for bad English). My mail : quentinpiccini@gmail.com

    Nihon no minasan, zehi ganbatte ne! Ano gaijin-kirai no yatrura ni makeru na ne !!!

  • This is a case of worker abuse not non-japanese worker abuse. Gaba just happens to be the first eikaiwa to try it out.

    It is common amongst bicycle and motorcycle courier companies in Japan. Totallly illegal but the seem to get away with it a lot. These guys get no workers accident insurance etc.

    A union in Tokyo one against a courier company about a year or 2 ago. Gaba is fighting to the bitter end but has just this week had their appeal turned down. You can see the decision on the Central Labor Commission’s homepage. I imagine there will be information at http://www.generalunion.org soon.

    Gaba’s next option is to sue the government over the ruling. They have 30 days to do so.

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    Teatrino, don’t let the stories you read on this site put you off from living in Japan! This is an activist site, so stories of abuse, bullying, and corruption are what make the headlines, and not ordinary stories of regular people living in harmony. If you liked life in Kyushu back then, and you come back, you’ll probably like it now.

    BTW, I know a lot of people who are trying out non-English European languages. If you’ve got a regular job, you should be able to do some teaching at least as a hobby.

    Prego, ritorna in Giappone! (I hope that sounds normal… ^^;)

  • At the risk of being *highly* off-topic (and for this, I do apologise) Teatrino and Mark’s comments both made me think on my own daft affair with Japan.

    The horror stories on this and other sites took what was a lifelong dream and turned it upside down. To the point that I’m discouraged from even visiting the place. But on the other hand, I still see some people encouraging potential migrants, even some lucky (or perhaps naive, or both) souls stating outright that Japan is really a great place to live, with nothing but nice things to say.

    As someone with no reference except word-of-mouth, it’s hard to know what to believe any more, and whether or not I should continue forward, or abandon a potential fool’s errand. I was headstrong in the past, but now I’m frightened to death of the place. I want to give up but part of me can’t leave it alone.

    (again, my apologies for the off-topic rambling, I will leave it to our Debito to decide whether or not to allow it)

  • @Tacit Blue

    Life here in Japan is going to be largely what you make of it: if you learn Japanese, find a fulfilling job, and surround yourself with friends and family, it can be a great place to live. Safe, polite, and thoughtful.

    There are still (quite a few) problems, particularly with laws and administrative systems, but on the whole I love my life here 😉

    If you want to come and see what life in Japan is like, go for it!

  • It is good to see this story starting to get some more coverage, thanks to Arudo Debito for taking an interest in the story.

    Change has been a long time coming – the Gaba branch of the General Union was formed back in 2007, and working through the bureaucracy has taken a lot of time. But with last week’s ruling, the Tokyo Central Labor Commission confirmed the 2009 Osaka Labor Commission ruling that instructors were employees under trade union law. Change is on the way.

    It might not be this month, or even this year. But the tide has turned and the work of the last three years is starting to pay off. As mentioned in the Japan Times article, if the system at Gaba is allowed to stand, it will spread to the rest of the industry. And there is no reason that it couldn’t spread to other industries. As a previous responder said, this is not solely a non-Japanese issue. There are many, many Japanese instructors at Gaba, lacking all the same benefits that we foreign instructors lack. All we want is what we are entitled to under the law – and now that the tide has turned, it is just a matter of time.

    Adrian Ringin,
    Treasurer, Gaba Branch, General Union

  • Sorry if I too am making this off-topic, but for me this is a entirely different case. Being here on Debito made me want to live in Japan even more. Its given me a better reason to live there instead of “I like the language and I want to use it/the culture is interesting”. I’ve always been somewhat of an activist, but in my native country of North America, many things have already been done(granted there are still issues, but still). In Japan, I see fresh snow for me to walk on. I feel like I can be part of something much bigger and be able to walk along modern Martin Luther Kings like Debito and other activists and really change the country for the better.

    — Thanks for the support and the (rather unfair to MLK) compliments. But let’s get back on track. This blog post isn’t about whether or not one should live in Japan — that’s in my view entirely up to the individual and his or her preferences and tolerances. It’s about the subversion of labor law protections. Back on topic.

  • > arguing the instructors were not employees and, as itaku —
    > independent contractors — weren’t covered by Japanese labor laws

    Wow, that sounds familiar. My dad’s employer claims that his employees are independent contractors and uses this as an excuse to not pay various taxes (e.g., social security), which means they have to pay the whole amount themselves, among other things. My dad drives a company car and gets paid by the company (not by the driving student), but he’s supposedly an “independent contractor” because, umm, because he has to call the students himself and schedule their driving time, I guess. I have serious doubts that this would stand up if the driving school were ever investigated by the department of labor, but they’re small enough to fly under the radar, and the employees won’t report the guy because they’re afraid of losing their jobs. This is in central Ohio, so everyone involved is a natural-born citizen of the majority ethnic background.

  • Hi Jonadab,
    I think it probably doesn’t matter what country we are in, people are people, and there are always those who will try and get away with taking advantage when they can. Some of these run companies. There is usually a big power difference between management and workers, and while some companies don’t abuse this, others do.

    The difficult point is that when they do, like with your dad’s company, there is often a lot of nervousness or outright fear that people have of losing their jobs, not having their contracts renewed, or suffering some other consequence if they speak up. This is where unions can come in handy, because they provide workers the chance to stand up for their rights and try to improve their circumstances collectively. Unions also tend to have knowledge and experience with the legal and labor systems that most regular people lack, so they can be a good thing to have on one’s side if the company is breaking the law.

    But that said, someone always has to be first to step up and do something. All the great struggles of the past, against slavery, for civil rights, for improved working conditions, for the right to vote required people to stand up and be counted. Without that, nothing changes.

    Adrian Ringin

    Treasurer, Gaba Branch, General Union

  • I don’t think an outfit like Gaba is representative of all eikaiwa employers in Japan but they will all try to exploit the situation . They are reliant on the fact that a)people move on to better employment conditions as soon as they can find them b) people are not in Japan long enough to get a good grasp on what their rights are as an employee and c) there is a large pool of (I’m guessing) unqualified native speakers who will take the crummy pay and conditions so when somebody leaves they are easy to replace.

    What’s the answer? To work collectively in order to protect yourself and improve conditions as part of a union. Not for any moral reason but for basic political and practical purposes.Also, I suspect the days of simply being a native speaker will only qualify people for the worst kind of eikaiwa jobs in the future so getting TEFL/TESOL qualifications seems a sensible idea.

  • “In 2009, the company spent nearly ¥854 million on advertising and about ¥637 million on labor costs for its 850 independently contracted instructors and 434 employees.” I’m surprised that no-one has noticed how illogical this claim is. Do the math: if true, it would mean that the average person working at Gaba makes only 41,000 yen per month. The article was filled with inaccuracies, but this is the most obvious one.

  • Hello Chris,
    It has been some time since I’ve checked this page, but if you read the post on the Lets Japan story about Gaba (see below), the article’s author apologized for that error, and the online version of the Japan Times article has also been corrected. The General Union web page also quoted that figure, but after you emailed us with the same information you quote here we investigated and confirmed that it was incorrect, and removed it. As I emailed you in reply, we appreciated the heads up – we don’t have any interest in putting out inaccurate information.


    It is good that you bring this mistake to people’s attention, but the mistake you refer to was one incorrect figure out of a full page article. As far as I can see, the rest of the article stands.

    Best regards,

    Adrian Ringin

    Treasurer, Gaba branch, General Union

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