It has been 14 months since members of the Berlitz General Union Tokyo (Begunto) first downed chalk and launched rotating strikes against the language school Berlitz Japan.
The strike has grown into the longest and largest sustained strike by language teachers in Japan. While about 500 Nova teachers struck during that firm's collapse in 2007, the action only lasted a day.
The dispute entered a new phase on Dec. 3 when, after nearly a year of strike action by union members, Berlitz Japan served notice they were suing the five teachers who serve as volunteer Begunto executives, as well as two officials of the National Union of General Workers (NUGW) Tokyo Nambu: President Yujiro Hiraga and Louis Carlet, the deputy general secretary and case officer for Begunto. The suit also names NUGW Tokyo Nambu and its Begunto branch as defendants.
Claiming the strike is illegal and that the union is trying to damage the company, Berlitz Japan is suing for ¥110 million in damages from each defendant.
The financial health of Benesse Corp., Berlitz Japan's parent company, also influenced the timing of the strike. In their annual report for the financial year ending March 31, 2008, Benesse recorded their highest-ever earnings. Operating income grew 11.4 percent and Berlitz International Inc. achieved its best result since being bought by Benesse. Operating income for Benesse's language company division rose 36 percent from the year before to ¥6.35 billion, in part due to higher revenues and profits at Berlitz International, which benefited from "an increase in the number of lessons taken worldwide, particularly in Japan and Germany," according to the report.
How malicious is Berlitz? Despite record earnings, it has decided that suing a few teachers and the strike organizers is preferable to sitting down and negotiating. A company that sues it own workers for exercising their right to strike? That's a company you don't want to work for. Screw Berlitz.
BEGUNTO is on strike: Let's Japan forums