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Unions can offer a hand in dealing with recalcitrant employers

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Special To The Japan Times

Over the years, the Japan Times Community section has reported frequently on the ins and outs for foreign nationals working as teachers in the English-school or so-called eikaiwa (English conversation) industry. This week’s query comes from A.R., who is having some problems with a less-than-cooperative former employer:

I quit working at an eikaiwa last September and didn’t leave on amicable terms. They are now refusing to give me my tax information, or at least proof of employment with the company.

Is there anywhere else I can go to get this paperwork? They also didn’t pay me my last paycheck. I’m OK with that and not willing to fight for it because I feel it’d be too troublesome. However, I really need the paperwork. Can you help?

I asked Dennis Tesolat of the General Union for his input. Founded in 1991, the General Union is a legally registered labor/trade union open to workers of any category or nationality. The union has established a solid reputation for protecting members’ rights, improving work conditions and helping them negotiate in their workplaces.

According to Tesolat, the answer to the reader’s query can be divided into two parts — the law and the reality.

“The employer’s obligation to provide you with a certificate of employment, tax papers and your last month’s wages are clearly outlined in Articles 22, 23 and 24 of the Labor Standards Law. To make a really long story short, yes, they owe you all of these things,” he says. “Once requested, an employer has seven days to pay your final wages and other goods which belong to you — our opinion is that this includes tax papers — and to provide you with a certificate of employment.

“Wages are also covered by this part of the law as well as Article 24, which requires the payment of wages to be made at least once per month. I would therefore advise you to write to your ex-employer and ask they provide you with the things you mention.”

But wait, there’s more. Unfortunately, employers may not comply with the laws, says Tesolat.

“People without a union end up relying on the Labor Standards Office to rectify this kind of problem,” he explains. “The LSO has the ability to punish employers who violate the law, but in reality the LSO will take the complaint, call the company, investigate and then tell them verbally to fix the problem if there was an actual violation. If this doesn’t work, the LSO will tell you about their effort and then send you packing.”

To this end, Tesolat recommends joining a union before you end up at loggerheads with an employer, as there is a much better chance of solving problems than if you go it alone.

“Unions have legal rights to demand, negotiate and dispute. While we can’t always deal forcefully with every employer, a union can also represent you at the LSO, and in my personal experience, they are less willing to blow you off when you have a union on your side.”

General Union: www.generalunion.org/Joomla/index.php. Send your comments and questions to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp.