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Changes afoot at Kitakyudai (2004)

Changes at Kitakyushu University.

When I started working at the University of Kitakyushu as a gaikokujin kyoshi in the year 2000, I had no idea how my terms and conditions of employment compared with other members of staff. I had spent a very happy three years as an ALT on the JET Program but after 6 months at the University of Kitakyushu, I knew something was wrong. The degree of social distance between my Japanese colleagues and me seemed abnormally large. I was not allowed to speak or vote in meetings and my position as a gaikokujin kyoshi was clearly stigmatised.

The gaikokujin kyoshi group of the time mobilised and started to research the issue in more depth. The university union helped us gather accurate information about how our terms and conditions of employment compared with other staff at the university. To my regret, we found that the gaikokujin kyoshi position was the only one that in principle required applicants to be within 8 years of graduation (which functioned as an indirect age cap). Once employed, we were the only teaching staff to be employed on 1-year contracts renewable 4 times only. And since we were ineligible to re-apply for our own jobs, we were consequently excluded from the promotion structure and denied long-term employment, along with the social security that brings.

Since then, almost all the gaikokujin kyoshi engaged in constructive and friendly dialogue with colleagues. Just by writing and talking to people, we drummed up a lot of good will over the last 4 years. Between May and July of 2004, we visited the Deans, the Vice-President and President, who were all willing to meet with us and discuss the issue informally. We took the opportunity to tell them about the UN human rights treaties and the UN reporting system, all of which they seemed to find interesting. We felt we had their support.

In July 2004, through Fukuoka General Union, we demanded collective bargaining with University of Kitakyushu officials under the Japanese Trade Union law. We finally sat down for a heart to heart with Kitakyushu City officials, whom we had not previously been able to reach due to the 'distance' between Kitakyushu City and Kitakyushu University. Kitakyushu City is our official employer. We had researched the issue in great depth and knew exactly how our terms and conditions of employment differed from those of other staff. We made as strong a case as we could that the university was discriminating against us and thus breaking two human rights treaties (ICERD and CESCR.) We told them that if they did not stop discriminating against us, we would report them to United Nations Human Rights Committees using the human rights reporting system available to NGOs. Over the summer months, the university union supported us by speaking out strongly against the gaikokujinkyoshi system in written memoranda.

In September 2004, the University of Kitakyushu suddenly announced that they had made some interim decisions regarding the foreign lecturer position that they have promised to review again at a later date:

  1. They have agreed to change the job title from gaikojujin kyoshi to gogaku kyoshi
  2. They have lifted the '8-years within graduation' restriction upon applicants
  3. Foreign lecturers can now re-apply for their jobs at the end of the 5-year period (which opens up the possibility for longer-term employment.)

We are still not satisfied with these changes but nonetheless, given how conservative some public officials can be and also considering that we have managed to maintain goodwill along the way, I am very pleased. Dialogue continues....

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