Think English teaching is a cushy job? For some it still is, but if you are unlucky enough to be a non-JET ALT (Assistant Language Teacher), be prepared to be the meat in a sandwich between the Board of Education (BOE) and your employer — the dispatch company — as they squeeze you for all they can. The ALT system used to be the territory of the JET Program, in which the Japanese government invited teachers over, paid them 300,000yen per month and provided them with all the benefits to which regular Japanese workers are entitled. But with those extras the budget swelled to over 6 million yen per year, per JET, so many cities & towns have been farming out this work to cheaper, locally employed non-JET ALTs.
Here we face the problem of the middleman, or the dispatch company sub-contracted by the BOE to provide ALTs at a discount rate. The dispatch company then, after securing the “sub-contract” (itaku gyomu) recruits teachers — you may have seen these ads in Fukuoka Now FORUMS or on the Rainbow Plaza bulletin board. While this seems legitimate, under closer scrutiny, the rot is revealed.
Through the Freedom of Information Act, I was able to collect a number of these contracts between local governments and these dispatch companies. I found a huge gap between what the company promises the city (in regard to working conditions for the teacher) and what they actually give the teacher. The major issue is shakai hoken (pension/health insurance scheme). The BOE makes the companies promise to enroll teachers in shakai hoken; but they never do, and thus, save on premiums and increase profits. The same goes for koyo hoken (employment insurance). The company by law must pay 50% of these premiums, but oftentimes they scare foreigners into thinking that this is dead money by claiming that one must be in the pension scheme for 25 years to make a claim, which is not exactly true. You can claim back up to three years of pension when you leave the country, 50% of which your company already paid. I estimate that a company with 40 teachers on their books can save up to 10 million yen per year through this illegal practice. The same goes for transport allowance. While the company receives 100%, teachers get…
The next problem is “who’s the boss”? Dispatch companies employ teachers, so while they have an employer-employee relationship, the BOE (school) holds no legal relationship with the teacher. And while all workers in a school must be under the authority of the principal, in this situation, they are not. Also, if your company designates a method of teaching, but your team teacher tells you to do it another way, you could be in a position where you have to act against orders. This scenario has lead to dismissals through no real fault of the teacher. The Ministry of Education has sent a directive to all local governments telling them to stop this sub-contracting. I hope they follow orders and stop this practice of maru-nage (passing on the work lock-stock-and-barrel). But perhaps the most important issue here is job security. Most of these contracts are for less than a year, and sometimes only by a couple of days so the company can say that they don’t continually employ you. Others are more brazen, giving 3-month contracts so teachers are unemployed over the school holidays. If a teacher complains about their conditions, their contract may not be renewed. I heard of one case in which a teacher demanded to be enrolled in shakai hoken, succeeded (his legal right), and was then told his services would not be needed the next year. Cities also like the idea of having different teachers, as one BOE official told me: “We get bored with the same teacher for three years, this way we can have fresh teachers”.
So there you have it, a new system that keeps foreign English teachers on lower pay schemes, offers less job security with no chance for promotion, and is kept out of sight of the city. When I complained about the treatment of a non-JET ALT to a BOE officer, he responded, “It is a matter for the teacher and his employer, not us”. While the handling of English teaching, just like text books, desks and uniforms, goes to the most attractive bidder, what happens to the “internationalization” they expect teachers to teach and students to learn. Only when they start giving foreign teachers their basic rights and stop treating them like disposable labor, will schools be places for learning about “kokusaika”.
By Chris Flynn
Australian / University Teacher, Fukuoka General Union Rep
Illustrations by Shirley Waisman
Originally published in Fukuoka Now magazine (fn76, April 2005)