The Japan Times had a couple of articles today on the March in March, a union drive for equal rights in the workplace for foreign workers. It's a must-read since it exposes eikaiwa for what it is: a dead-end McJob. The first article is here.
This sums up the essence of the problems in eikaiwa:
We want contracts that are more beneficial for employees, not just for companies," she said, asking to keep her name confidential.
I want my rights! Just don't tell anybody my name. Want to bet she skipped work to join the parade? It shows what happens to troublemakers in eikaiwa. Although workers have the right to organize and unionize, being on one-year contracts makes it easy for employers to come up with a perfunctory excuse and either fire the employee outright or let the contract lapse.
The short article focuses on three key issues:
Health and Welfare
These points are significant because having them allows you to think about what you want to do and where you want to be in the long term, not worry about whether your contract will be renewed or not. No career is built on one-year contracts. A long-term contract or even the possibility (however remote) of making teachers regular employees would do much to reduce the high turnover at eikaiwas and maybe even lead to better trained teachers.
While salaries seem to be stagnant at 250,000 yen/month, collective bargaining (ostensibly by a union) would do much to stabilize salaries and negotiate wage increases.
Shakai hoken, while expensive, is a good thing. Granted, most teachers probably don't need it, or will never use it, but it means no more worrying about sickness or injury. Teachers are legally entitled to health insurance. That is, until NOVA and other schools moved the goal posts and rewrote the number of hours in their contracts.
None of this is going happen unless teachers organize in large numbers. And here's the problem: is an eikaiwa job worth fighting for? If you've been in eikaiwa for more than a few years, the answer is probably yes, you should fight for your rights because you're missing out on some entitlements. But if you're only planning to be here for a year and then move on, it's hard to get excited about all this. For some, it's enough to collect a paycheck and move on.
The other article in the Japan Times is tangentially related to the first: big schools, while faceless, are stable and pay on time but smaller schools are more human but less stable.
It says that salaries have fallen, but I'm not sure I agree with this:
The average salary for language teachers has dropped substantially in the past 10 years, mirroring the downturn in the Japanese economy. A quick scan of the classified ads in newspapers or on one of the many Internet recruitment sites now operating shows that there isn't a huge variation in the salaries paid at large and small schools.
Full-time teachers can expect to earn between 240,000 yen and 280,000 yen, while part-timers will be looking at an hourly wage of between 2,000 yen and 4,000 yen yen. So if money isn't the key, what is?
Rather than falling, I would say wages have been stagnant the past 10 years. I was making 250,000 more than 10 years ago. What effect have Internet services like Findateacher and the increasing use of dispatch teachers by school boards had on salaries? A quick search on Findateacher showed teachers willing to teach for as low as 1300 yen/hr with 3000 yen/hr appearing to be the norm. For school boards, dispatch teachers are appealing because they get a warm body without having to pay full time wages.
I once thought that I'd have more responsibility and free time at a smaller school. I left GEOS before my contract was completed because I couldn't stand the monotony. I consider forfeiting my contract completion bonus the cost of my freedom from eikaiwa.
The article rightly points out the biggest pitfall of working at small schools: no students means no paycheck. And with smaller schools, it might not be just the manager's job to drum up business. As the article points out, it's difficult to leave your work behind. In my case, after quitting GEOS for a small school in the countryside, I usually didn't have classes until 5pm most days. I was almost giddy with all of the free time staring me in the face. No more punching the GEOS time card, no more checking with the manager to ask if I could go and get something to eat to or just pop out to run a short errand because I had a gap in my schedule.
I thought I was free until the phone calls started coming in the morning. "Shawn, I need you interview a new student. She's coming at noon. Please be at the school."
The calls weren't every day, but they caused me to alter my behavior. What if the boss calls and I'm not in? Will she be angry? I knew that I was working for a very small outfit and failure to grow the school could mean possible problems with my pay. So I played ball and kept close to home, not going out for long stretches just in case the manager needed me. There went a large chunk of my free time. I had effectively imprisoned myself in my own apartment.
There was a time when I laughed at the high school girls in neon pink hats handing out GEOS tissues in front of the station. Now I found my self in front of the local elementary school doing the same thing. I felt that I had to stay on the manager's good side lest she turn my life into a living hell or screw me out of some money. In the end, I had traded the monotony of GEOS for the boredom of a smaller school. I didn't have enough to do. I remember lying on the floor on a hot summer day staring at the ceiling. "So this is it?" I thought. "That's all there is?" I knew I had to get out.