FGU - Fukuoka General Union
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Teacher Termination (2007)

Victory for FGU in Hiroshima High School Teacher Termination.

by Chris Flynn

Juan Velazquez had worked at the Shinjo Gakuen High School for nearly ten years when he was called into the office on November 7 (2006) was given the news that he would not be renewed the following school year. This was devastation for Juan hand his wife (who worked at the school cafeteria) who for the past decade gave their all to the Shinjo, even sent their own children to the school. They were offered one month salary or employment insurance "As long as they don't see a lawyer". Juan, a gently spoken former US military software engineer who has been married and living in Japan for 30 years was not one to take it lying down, and was surprised to find the Fukuoka General Union website and sent an email explaining his plight. They made the five hour drive to Fukuoka and found out what their rights were.

At first the school gave the reason for the termination as being falling student numbers (despite them taking on three new English teachers the next year). However, when the union stepped in and demanded reasons in writing, the school's lawyers came out with a long list of complaints of how bad a teacher Juan was.

Juan was meticulous in keeping documents and had every pay-slip and contract he had ever signed, which proved to be invaluable in fighting for his case. It came to light that he had signed contracts for the first five years of his tenure, however, for the last five there had been no contracts, just a continuation of his work with nothing said about contract renewal.

Let's go back in time a bit. On October 13, 2006, just three weeks before Juan was told he would not be needed the following year, a panicked school secretary called Juan into his office. There was an audit of the schools books for the previous three years and Juan had not signed any contracts. The secretary quickly drew up the three contracts and asked Juan to sign (his Japanese wife was present at the time). Juan asked if anything had changed and he was given a definite "no".

The union argued strongly that the complaints were bogus, as they were all about Juan's performance BEFORE he signed the contracts on October 13. By signing the contracts (on that day) the school showed that they were satisfied with his performance, enough to contract him again. The union also took each complaint and proved that it was false.( lawyers claimed that the school's average mark in the Center Test English listening was lower than the national average however, Juan only taught three out of the over twenty students who took the test, which showed the opposite that the test scores were low because he did NOT teach more third year students.) Another point in Juan's favour was the fact that he went for nearly five years without signing a contract. In Japanese labour law if an employee has the reasonable expectation that he will be kept on for the next year (i.e. previously automatically renewed contracts) he is considered an employee with an open ended contract, and a company must give reasonable grounds to terminate (non-renew) them. The lawyers knew that legal precedent would favour Juan.

The industrial action did create bad blood between Juan and the school, mostly due to the fact that he dared stand up for his rights and he didn't bow to pressure and fade away. The school refused to renew his contract, however they did agree to pay an (undisclosed) amount of compensation which both Juan and the union were satisfied with.

This is a good example of how some employers use foreigners as convenient labour, but when they lose their value (get old, rub someone the wrong way) they will dump them and their rights without batting an eyelid. Juan has now moved out of Hiroshima and is starting afresh a difficult task when you are over fifty. And his advice: "Join the union before you have trouble at work, you won't regret it".

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