Foreign English teachers call for fair treatment

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About 40 foreign English teachers urged the government Friday to take steps to eradicate the serious problems they face on the job, including low wages and sudden dismissal.

The foreigners — living mainly in the Kanto region — made the request during a 90-minute meeting in Tokyo with three House of Representatives members of the Democratic Party of Japan and officials from the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry and the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

Louis Carlet, a deputy secretary general of the National Union of General Workers, Tokyo South, said in the meeting that the economic slowdown in recent years has adversely affected working conditions for non-Japanese English teachers at private language schools, public schools and universities.

“Job security for foreign teachers is virtually nonexistent today in Japan,” he said, noting that some people had been denied membership in their employers’ social security programs and had been fired for trivial reasons.

Also, many workers who joined unions have been threatened by their employers, he said.

One example is American Henri Delisle. He was sent to teach at a junior high school in Ibaraki Prefecture in April by a company that employs native English speakers on a contract basis and farms them out to public schools.

The company began complaining about his work attitude in July and tried to move him to Tokyo on a contract with lower wages.

“I received various strange complaints (from the company), including that I was not doing someone else’s job and that I was not working during nonworking hours,” he said in Friday’s meeting.

He told the company July 22 he was a labor union member and he was fired the same day, Delisle said.

Kazuo Inoue, one of the three DPJ lawmakers present, said Japan needs to immediately improve foreigners’ working conditions and protect their rights.

Immediate measures the government can take include instructing the private sector to respect foreigners’ rights to join unions and asking boards of education to hire foreign teachers directly instead of getting them through intermediaries, he said.

“In the long run, we need to come up with measures to provide better social security for foreigners,” according to Inoue. “Creating a more comfortable environment for them is really important for Japan to be home to capable people from around the world.”

Briton Robert Tench, who heads a union at the private language school chain Nova Corp., said five teachers, who had worked for the firm for an average of seven years, had been dismissed in the past few months for trivial reasons, including an allegation by the company that one spoke too fast in the classroom.