Education workers in Japan’s “eikaiwa schools”, employed by NOVA, are currently on strike against unsafe working conditions due to the coronavirus pandemic. Eikaiwa schools teach English as a foreign language to Japanese nationals, both adults and young people.
The majority of workers in eikaiwa schools are foreign nationals who have emigrated to Japan, and they are represented by the General Union (GU).
The strikes have impacted schools throughout Japan, including in Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto and Asahikawa. Slogans include “Safe working environment now!” and “This strike is about safety”. One striking worker wrote on Facebook “I have already put in my papers to resign from Nova and return to my home county next month, but I am striking in solidarity with my friends and colleagues for their rights. I’m not striking for my own benefits. I’m striking for everyone else’s rights.”
NOVA workers already had to fight to ensure schools were closed at the height of the pandemic, after the GU accused the company of fining workers who did not wish to work in dangerous conditions. When the company did allow working from home, they and other eikaiwa chains were accused of demanding “sabisu zangyo” – complimentary overtime – from their employees. Some employees said they were expected to work for over 10 hours a day at home.
This is not the first strike to take place in Japan’s eikaiwa schools. In 2007 over 500 workers at NOVA schools took strike action, and from December 2007-November 2008 workers at Berlitz schools took part in “the longest and largest sustained strike by language teachers in Japan”. These heroic strikers were sued by their employer following the action, in a legal dispute which was not settled until 2012. These actions come in the context of the consistent erosion of wages and living standards for workers in eikaiwa schools, from around ¥400,000 (£3000) a month in the 1980s to ¥250,000 (£1800) today.
A statement on July 23rd indicates that the next round of strikes is currently suspended as NOVA has committed to negotiations with the GU. Industrial action should not be ruled out if the company refuses to meet the unions demands.
Industrial action to defend workers in education and in other industries during the pandemic will be necessary as big business and governments sacrifice people for the sake of profit.
International Socialist Alternative members throughout the world, particularly those working in education, stand in solidarity with workers striking for safety!