Steps To Take

If you are a teacher at an international school and you feel there is something amiss about your job or workplace, these are the steps that the teacher in this labor dispute would point out to you:

At work:
– keep every document, memo, email etc.
– back up computer regularly onto external hard-drive
– keep records of success on the job
– establish excellent communication and relationship with parents and students
– when communicating with admin, always be polite and cooperative
– never be in a meeting with admin alone
– request / insist on the presence of colleagues (i.e. fellow teachers) at uncomfortable meetings
– protest in writing immediately when you sense something amiss professionally
– insist on taping meetings and observed classes as an objective medium

People to talk to about your problem:
– go to the headmaster
– go to his boss
– go to HIS boss
– go to HIS boss
– if / when none of them listen and/or are the type to cover each other’s asses, go to the Tokyo Metropolitain Goverment Labor Consultation Center and ask for a free mediator:
(this step is necessary to later prove that you actively tried to mediate this out-of -court)
– if the school has a supportive Teacher’s Group, they might be able to help if not practically, then morally
– request the advice of more established staff
– the most effective step, in the teacher’s case, was joining a Labor Union (because then, Trade Union Laws started to apply to her). There are many in Tokyo:

Steps with the Labor Union:
– declare to your boss that you are a union member (union executives visit your workplace and present a hanko’ed paper indicating this)
– request “collective bargaining”, a meeting in which the school is obliged to attend and listen to what you have to say (this is also important to later prove you have tried to solve things out-of-court)
– peacefully demonstrate (if the school is still being unreasonable) by handing out leaflets talking about your case at the school (you must obey traffic laws etc.)
– unions tend to have a great deal of experience with many kinds of labor disputes, and depending on your case, they will assess if suing is the way to go
– hire a lawyer–not always super-expensive; union can help translate
– court in Japan tends to be like this: one hearing a month for 6 months or more. Lawyers present documents, next date is set. There are very few dramatic oral arguments seen on US courtroom TV. It is highly pragmatic and finished within ten minutes at a time usually.

NOTE: Make sure to have enough money to live while sorting out your case. Make sure to take care of your taxes, immigration documents etc. Learn to speak Japanese and what it really means to live in Japan (outside of the international school bubble). In a union, you have to help others too, not just expect others to help your case. Realize that there are people much worse off in the world than you and don’t sweat it.

In retrospect: (Things that would have been good)

  1. Joining a labor union before there is trouble, and let your school know you belong to one (i.e. “declare”). Under Trade Union Law, if they fire you and you want to dispute it, instead of court, you can go to the Labor Commission, which does not require a lawyer and can be much quicker to resolve things than court. It’s interesting that back at “home” (US, Canada etc.), most teachers belong to unions. Abroad, the dependency (and faith) on the schools / employer is much more.

  2. The best thing in the first place, would be to foster a workplace that can solve its own problems, with in-house mediators, clear policies, procedures in place and committees to handle these things openly, with steps, back-and-forth, compromise, agreement among teachers and admin about job security and problem solving. Parents should also have access to the same type of forum for their needs. (If your school is not like this, you might very well experience random, vengeful, condescending, marshaling, top-down rule-making by some people with administrative titles hoping to give semblance of leadership.)


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