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20 October
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Asia

Foreign teachers fall into labor bondage in Japan

Schools use a loophole in the law to not pay for vacation and overtime

Photo: Getty Images

/NOVOSTIVL/ The closure of 51 Coco Juku eikaiwa (English conversation) schools in Japan last week, with more to come in June, illustrates just how unstable the English teaching market can be. Companies that used to provide fairly well-paying jobs are now, in many cases, restructuring them into something that resembles a McJob — a brief stop in between a person’s schooling and career. This article appeared in The Japan Times.

Given this change and the often temporary status of an eikaiwa instructor, when a problem with working conditions arises, many teachers will simply grin and bear it until they head back to their home countries or just jump to another company.

However, that wasn’t the case for Mulele Jarvis, 48, and Cindy Powers, 69. After receiving what they believed to be questionable contracts, the pair took their employers to court and walked away in triumph. It was a grueling 2 and half-year struggle but the lesson for all of us is clear: Know your rights as a worker.

"I’ve been living and working in Japan since I was 20, so I really had no experience with contracts and signed pretty much whatever I was given," Jarvis says. "This recent process has really educated me, and I encourage everyone to look carefully at the contents of their own contracts."

Before we get into the pair’s fight, it’s good to know some background. In 2013, the government amended the Labor Contracts Act (LCA) to include a provision that would allow a worker on serial fixed-term contracts for more than five years to request job permanency.

That five-year period came due last year, but some companies responded by creating loopholes to get out of offering permanent positions, such as asking workers in their fourth year to take a term break and, subsequently, start their five-year period all over again.

Another way some companies tried to get around the five-year period was to categorize their workers as "independent contractors," which would have the effect of putting them outside the scope of the LCA amendment.

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