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The Berlitz Lawsuit Drags On

It doesn't look like the lawsuit will end any time soon:

The current focus of negotiations is the amount of notice union members should give the company ahead of industrial action. Initially, Berlitz Japan offered to drop their lawsuit if teachers gave a week's notice before striking. Begunto proposed five minutes. Since teachers typically only learn the next day's schedule the night before, the judge instructed the company to come up with a better offer.

Asked how much notice unions legally have to give before striking, Langley replied, "None. Zero. That's one of the beauties of a strike: You just strike."

In the latest round of talks held Thursday, Berlitz Japan requested contract teachers give strike notification by 3 p.m. the day before, and per-lesson teachers by 5 p.m. Begunto pointed out to the judge that per-lesson teachers don't receive their schedule until 6 p.m. the day before. Union executives have taken the offer back to members for consideration

That's quite the chutzpah from Berlitz. I don't know why they want advance notice of industrial reaction when it hasn't stopped them from screwing over their teachers:

One, who didn't want to be named, received word of his dismissal just before shipping out to Afghanistan as a U.S. Army reservist at the end of July 2009. Berlitz Japan had allowed the teacher to take unpaid leave for military duty several times before the strike. But after being the only teacher at his Yokohama branch to walk out, he began getting complaints from students.

According to Begunto members, after being ordered to deploy to Afghanistan, Berlitz Japan told the teacher he could take a leave of absence of less than a year, and that he'd have to quit if he needed more than a year. Two days before he left for Afghanistan the company fired him. According to the dismissal letter, his performance was subpar and was hurting the company's image.

Take unpaid leave and then get summarily fired anyway for reasons which you cannot defend since you are conveniently unable to communicate with the company. The same thing applies if you become seriously ill:

Another of the teachers named in the suit, Catherine Campbell, was fired earlier this month after taking too long to recover from late-stage breast cancer cancer [sic]. In June 2009, Campbell took a year of unpaid leave to undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Because Berlitz Japan failed to enroll Campbell in the shakai hoken health insurance scheme, she was unable to receive the two-thirds wage coverage it provides and had to live with her parents in Canada during treatment. The company denied Campbell's request to extend her leave from June to Sept. 2010 and fired her for failing to return to work.

Berlitz Japan work rules allow for leave-of-absence extensions where the company deems it necessary.

Never mind that this is unpaid leave, it's Catherine's fault for not healing faster. Her situation is also a good example of why it's important to pay into a health insurance scheme. She would not have been financially crippled had she been enrolled in the company's shakai hoken health insurance plan. Insurance is always a waste of money until you need it, eh?

As the article points out, the heart of the dispute is a battle for a wage increase. The teachers went on strike for a 4.6% increase after going without a raise for 16 years while Berlitz and its parent company, Benesse, enjoyed record profits.

One of the reasons why conditions are so bad in eikaiwa is because the schools have been allowed to get away with their shady practices and abuse for so long. Part of it has to do with the lack of regulation of the industry, but another reason is that few teachers have chosen to stand up to their employers. It's always been easier to jump ship and find something better. But with Japan's moribund economy, those days are over. There are few good options left for teachers: 1) Don't teach English in Japan (don't bother with it in the first place) or 2) Don't be a pushover in the first place.

As I've said before, this is worth fighting for. You can't let yourself be pushed around. The alternative is to let eikaiwa schools forever stomp on you.

In other news, Louis Carlet is the executive president of Zenkoku Ippan (Tozen):

On Dec. 3, 2008, Berlitz Japan claimed the strike was illegal and sued for a total of ¥110 million in damages. Named in the suit were the five teachers volunteering as Begunto executives, as well as two union officials: the president of the National Union of General Workers Tokyo Nambu, Yujiro Hiraga , and Carlet, former NUGW case officer for Begunto and currently executive president of Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union (Tozen).

Hoofin' has the details on how that happened.

UPDATE: The author of the article, James McCrostie, was kind enough to email me and offer a few extra morsels that didn't make the editor's cut:

  • To add insult to Catherine Campbell's fight with cancer, Benesse supports the Pink Ribbon campaign through their health insurance union (ベネッセ健康保険組合) [PDF, see p.3].
  • Union members told James McCrostie in an interview that the fight against Begunto really seems to be part of a wider policy of union busting at Benesse Corp. In April, Simul International fired the president of their union, someone with 12 years experience at the company. Also, Berlitz threw away 15 years of established practices for collective bargaining in English. Two lawyers from the law firm suing the Berlitz teachers now run Berlitz's side of negotiations in Japanese and demand the union provide an interpreter. During negotiations, Berlitz managers ask the lawyers for permission before they speak. The law firm in question is famous in Japanese legal circles for union busting.

Stay classy, Berlitz.

UPDATE 7/27: Something just didn't sit right with me after re-reading the article and it's the union's case with the Army Reservist. It's a weak case, especially when it looks like Berlitz was being reasonable in granting several unpaid leaves. Expecting to be able to take multiple unpaid leaves and still keep your job is a stretch in Japan. It's also difficult to see how the union could pin his dismissal on him being the only one in his school to strike. It seems like a moot point to argue when all Berlitz has to do is point out that the teacher has been away from work for extended periods of time.

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