Time to blow the cobwebs off this blog and talk about James McCrostie's article in the Japan Times two weeks ago on the General Union's scrap with Gaba.
The General Union says it has established a Gaba Branch and is accusing Gaba of lying when it stated in a financial report that there was no union and that labor relations were good. By all accounts in the article, this should be a slam dunk for the union, until you read this part:
The union declined to divulge how many Gaba instructors are members, citing a desire to keep the information from the company. Many members are undeclared, executives said, as they fear their contracts won't be renewed if they admit belonging to the union.
Unions don't work when they are a secret. Gaba can ignore the General Union and say that labor relations are good because they are probably just dealing with a couple of union representatives as opposed to a group of teachers from several schools demanding better working conditions. Frankly, if you are one delayed paycheck or one, "Sorry your contract won't be renewed" away from financial distress, you have bigger problems than unionization.
Instead of ranting about the pros and cons of trying to unionize eikaiwa, McCrostie's article should serve as a warning to anyone thinking of coming to work for Gaba. It's ironic that Gaba, a school that has boosted its fortunes in helping employees at Japanese companies become more global, technically has no employees itself since it maintains that its teachers are all contractors.
But if you were to read Gaba's recruiting website, you would have absolutely no idea what kind of labor nightmare awaits you in Japan. For all you know, you're a professional Gaba employee helping students achieve their goals, right? After all, the website talks about GabaWeb and its world-class methodology, texbooks, and technology, and how their certification is designed to help you reach your full potential. There are even opportunities for growth within the company.
Everything you read on that website makes it sound like you will be a valued employee. That is, until you actually arrive in Japan:
Employing instructors as independent contractors allows Gaba to reduce labor costs.
"There are absolutely no benefits and Japanese labor standards law doesn't apply," says Combs. Instructors receive no paid sick days or vacation, no pay for training, no overtime pay, and there's no limit on the number of unpaid overtime hours that can be worked. The company also avoids enrolling its instructors in unemployment insurance, the national health insurance and pension schemes, and workers' compensation. It also fails to pay a commuting allowance to instructors.
The instructors, working on six-month contracts, also lack job security. Employment as independent contractors means Gaba can dismiss any teacher, with or without cause, simply by not renewing their contract.
According to figures from the company posted on the G.U. website, pay for Gaba instructors ranges from ¥1,500 to ¥2,200 per 40-minute lesson depending on the instructor's status level and the time of the lesson. Most instructors fall into the bottom of the pay scale, with 502 out of 854 instructors receiving the minimum ¥1,500. Only 16 instructors earn ¥2,200 and Gaba caps the number of instructors that can be promoted to the higher pay brackets, the union says.
Promotions to a higher pay scale tend to be ephemeral, argues Ringin. "Basically, a pay raise is not a pay raise at Gaba; it's a temporary privilege, which they can take away more or less when they feel like it."
An instructor review committee evaluates each instructor monthly, Ringin explains. Receiving too many less-than-perfect scores on student evaluations, being late submitting your available hours, or calling in sick can be grounds for demotion to a lower pay scale, he says.
Incredibly, the article goes on to briefly describe a couple of teachers who, despite the above, actually like working there. I suppose it is good as long as you are oblivious to what's going on and don't care about yourself. Poor souls. Make no mistake, Gaba is the bottom of the barrel.