Osaka Forces English Teachers to Reapply for Their Own Jobs
SNA (Osaka) — With the Tokyo Olympics just around the corner, and Japan opening its doors to foreign workers more than ever before, it would seem that the nation should also be ready to show its omotenashi towards its growing foreign community. But judging by Osaka Prefecture’s grossly inept handling of changes to its Native English Teacher (NET) Program and its treatment of its foreign workers, grave doubts are warranted.
Osaka Prefecture’s NET Program is currently one of the largest-scale direct-hires of Native English Teachers in Japan. Unlike other teaching programs, such as the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET), which places limits on the number of years teachers can be hired, NET has allowed teachers to be re-contracted indefinitely.
Although this is one perk of the job, NETs have been in an employment purgatory for many years; contracted to work nearly 34 hours a week, they are considered part-time employees, despite the reality of many working unpaid overtime to fulfill all their responsibilities as a teacher.
Like its treatment of regular full-time teachers, the Osaka Board of Education never officially acknowledges the “service overtime” teachers put in, but offers similar benefits, such as paid sick leave and special summer leave, in line with other full-time teachers. And while companies are legally obliged to offer temporary workers full-time employment if they have been working more than five years, as special part-time (tokubetsu hijoukin) public servants, NETs are exempt from this law, and are forced to anxiously wait each February to see if they will still have their job the following school year.
In response to this kind of unstable job contract in a number of municipal governments, Japan’s Fiscal Year Appointed Employee policy (kaikei nendo ninyo shokuin) was introduced to eliminate special part-time status employment in local governments. It urged local governments to use this contract only for projects that lasted less than a year and to hire long-term employees as regular workers. It stated that this was to improve the current situation, so labor conditions should not worsen as a result.
Osaka Prefecture, however, took the opposite tack, using this “reform” as an opportunity to remove all the benefits that made the program appealing in the first place. Annual leave has been halved for all new teachers, all sick leave becomes unpaid, and additional travel time to return to home countries for bereavement leave will no longer be allowed. Many of these changes come under the pretense that these benefits are not offered to any other part-time staff employed by the Osaka Board of Education, even though NETs are the only category of staff under these new changes that work hours comparable to full-time.
Without a salary increase in more than 25 years, a fair number of NETs already juggle multiple jobs to support their families, and a lack of paid sick leave would no doubt make some consider coming to work with the flu rather than lose a week’s wages.
In addition, NETs are now required to reapply for their own jobs every year, as the Board of Education stated that NET’s previous experience will no longer be considered a factor in their reemployment. For some NETs who have been working more than ten years, to be told that their contributions to Osaka education over the last decade amounts to nothing is a slap in the face.
Moreover, whether due to gross negligence, deceitfulness, or both, the Osaka Board of Education has been dragging its feet in sharing information about its plan with both NETs and the OFSET Union, which represents NETs.
Despite OFSET’s consistent efforts since 2018 to get the Osaka Board of Education to be more transparent about their plans for 2020, they have continually postponed negotiations without prior notification. Only in late December 2019 did the Osaka Board of Education inform its employees that they would need to reapply for their own jobs for the new school year in 2020.
It also used that occasion to not only tell NETs that their jobs would not be guaranteed for the following year, but also, with a profound lack of sensitivity, asked NETs to spread the word so that the Osaka Board of Education could have more applicants for the very jobs NETs were at risk of losing.
Osaka’s mistreatment of foreign workers and its unwillingness to adapt and change its ‘black” working conditions should serve as a warning for anyone thinking about seeking employment in Japan.
Want to show your support to the OFSET Union? Sign their petition. The OFSET Union can also be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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