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ALC (2004)

Miscommunication between management and employees.

by Trevor Holster

In February 2004, ALC Education, Fukuoka, settled a dispute about downsizing and non-payment of employment insurance. The willingness of the ALC managers to explain and discuss the problems meant we could resolve everything quickly and fairly to both parties. This is a very positive example of the union and company co-operating for the benefit of everybody.

I joined ALC in May 1998 and the conditions were good, but there were some frustrating incidents, mostly concerning poor communication between sales staff and teachers. We discussed this with our head teacher many times but these problems were never addressed seriously. The sales staff meant well, but was under a lot of pressure, so it falls to the head teacher to maintain communication.

More worrying was when another teacher quit and the head teacher refused to pay him for overtime. This was resolved by head office, which immediately agreed to pay the teacher. It was clear that the head teacher did not understand the company's obligations, in contrast to the Japanese staff who tried to resolve problems in good faith.

Several years ago ALC began to claw back benefits. I questioned this, but the head teacher just said that it was "company policy". After this I refused to work outside of contracted hours, which upset the company. We discussed these problems in February 2003 and I believed we had fixed all the issues.

My contract ended in December 2003, so in November the head teacher said he would prepare the new contract, but when I met the head teacher and branch manager they said that I would not be offered a new contract. I said this was illegal, but they said that they only had to give thirty days' notice. I complained in writing that I had not been given a performance review or proper notice of dismissal, and demanded a contract extension to give time for this. The head teacher wrote a performance review and criticized me for refusing overtime. I rejected this as illegal, and was given a revised review.

The Fukuoka General Union then demanded collective bargaining and a reason for dismissal. At first ALC said there was no problem to discuss but we explained the company's obligations and it was clear that they misunderstood the situation. The head teacher had been told to extend my contract to allow time to discuss problems, but he forgot to do this and 'miscommunicated' the company's position. Once ALC understood the problem they were very helpful and it was clear that there wasn't enough work for our full-time teachers. The next issue was the terms of dismissal, and again ALC misunderstood their obligations, especially about employment insurance. Once their mistake was understood they quickly fixed it. My contract was extended to the end of June, with full employment insurance guaranteed after that, a resolution that is fair to both parties.

Looking back on the problems at ALC, they all arose from miscommunications between the teachers, the head teacher, and the managers; the company didn't understand its obligations and the head-teacher didn't deal with the problems effectively. The Union did a great job in resolving this dispute amicably. Once ALC understood the problems they were very professional and fixed them immediately. I hope ALC does well in the future, as they do try to treat their teachers well and the problems simply came from miscommunications. I also hope other companies and teachers see that the union has a vital role in resolving disputes constructively and that this benefits both companies and employees.

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