Language teachers’ union testifies before Tokyo labor panel

The Labor Commission of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government held a hearing June 10 on complaints from a labor union representing foreign-language instructors working for Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers.

The JOCV is a department of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, a governmental organization responsible for the technical cooperation aspect of Japan’s overseas aid programs. Hiraga Yujiro, president of the National Union of General Workers Tokyo South, which deals with labor problems among foreign-language teachers in Japan, called the JOCV “insincere” in that it is reluctant to negotiate with the union members.

The union was formed in 1993 due to disputes over instructors’ payments of national pension and health insurance premiums. Ever since, teachers have been asking the JOCV to take up such matters as allowing sick leave, setting clear standards for renewing industrywide standard-length one-year contracts and halting teacher dismissals without prior notice.

“The governmental cooperation agency is supposed to help people all over the world, which is a very good policy,” said William Gonzalez, leader of the six-member union who has worked with the organization for 11 years. “But how can they do that when they fail to cooperate with their own staff?”

The JOCV currently hires more than 60 foreign-language instructors who teach its Japanese volunteers before they go abroad. After a series of more hearings, the Labor Commission is scheduled to issue an administrative order to settle the dispute.