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2012 June 6 - 12 [LABOR]

Can English classes properly work with ALTs under illegal labor practice?

June 5 & 6, 2012
It has been 25 years since many municipalities in Japan began placing foreigners as assistant language teachers (ALT) in English classes. Many ALTs are assigned to schools from staffing agencies which have contracts with local authorities.

A staffing agency signs an agreement with a local government to supply foreign staff to schools to teach language as independent contractors. By law, these ALTs (independent contractors) cannot work under the guidance of the school because their supervisors are the staffing agency.

If the staffing agency sends these ALTs as temporary workers, they work under the guidance of the school, but the school cannot use them for more than 3 years. The Worker Dispatch Law requires employers to offer direct job contracts to those who work more than 3 years. In order to avoid meeting this legal requirement, many employers use independent contractors since they are considered to be self-employed individuals introduced by staffing agencies.

Prohibited from preparing lessons with a Japanese teacher for the class, can ALTs give well-planned classes to students?

Akahata on June 5 and 6 carried a serial article on this issue:


One day in May, Japanese Communist Party member of the Chiba Prefectural Assembly, Okada Sachiko visited a public high school to find out the actual condition of ALTs.

There, she saw a Japanese teacher and two ALTs working together to conduct a class.

An ALT who works under a direct contract with the prefectural board of education said, “Discussing with a Japanese teacher, an ALT from the staffing agency, and myself beforehand, we make a lesson plan.”

“This labor practice, however, violates the Worker Dispatch Law,” said the JCP assemblyperson, “Because the board of education does not hire all ALTs directly.”

The Japanese teacher confessed, “It’s impossible to conduct classes without cooperating with the ALTs.”

Here is one written contract signed between an ALT and a staffing agency. The contract says that the work includes team teaching and preparation in English activities.

The Worker Dispatch Law prohibits, in this case, the ALT, as an independent contractor, from being involved in team teaching unless she/he works on a direct contract with the school or the local authority.

An education official of the municipality concerned told Akahata that it is a problem if ALTs are violating the law. The official’s response sounded as if it is a matter of individual responsibility.

A Chiba Labor Bureau official said, “An independent contractor (an ALT) must conclude a class alone. If a Japanese teacher takes care of students or helps this contractor, it is an illegal practice of labor.”

Having this pointed out by the labor ministry, the ministry of education in 2009 issued a directive to municipal boards of education to review their practice of using ALTs. Many local governments, however, still leave the situation as is. In 2010, for example, public schools in Chiba’s Kashiwa City could not run English classes with an ALT attending for about three months after the illegal use of ALTs in the classes was disclosed.

Direct employment needed

The public sector competitive bidding procedure has led to an increase in the number of cutthroat staffing agencies which draw up contracts with low labor costs, forcing ALTs to work at low pay with no social insurance, no paid-leave, and no medical plan.

For English classes to be meaningful and effective, local governments should directly employ ALTs and improve their working conditions.
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