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What are ALTs’ Rights During the Coronavirus School Closures in Japan?

Assistant Language Teachers are still entitled to a percentage of their pay if their schools are closed during the shutdown.

By 4 min read

It’s been a hectic few weeks for those of us working in public schools here in Japan.

On Thursday, Feb. 27, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked all elementary, junior, and senior high schools in Japan to close through the annual spring break ending in April to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Naturally, chaos ensued. Local Boards of Education (BOE) weren’t sure how to handle such an unprecedented move, parents wondered what the hell to do with their kids, and teachers were concerned about their paychecks.

As an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT), would I still need to report for work if the school was shut down? Would I still be paid if there were no classes to teach? There’s been a lot of conflicting information as far as what exactly our rights are as ALTs.

Are ALTs expected to work during the shutdown?

Yes, direct hire ALTs are still expected to report to work although classes were canceled for the rest of the term. This is really no different than what’s expected during summer and spring vacations in the first place.

All ALTs, be they direct hire or dispatch, are entitled to a minimum of 60% of their regular salary even if they are told to stay home and not attend school.

The same applies to those on the JET Programme—since they are salaried employees, class cancellations will not affect their baseline pay.

Those who fall under direct hire or salaried employee status are the lucky ones. The issue comes, once again, with dispatch ALTs.

So, what about those dispatch ALTs?

Like most things, every situation is different. We know how annoying it is to hear that overused phrase, but it’s hard to generalize across the board.

Dispatch ALT company Interac, for example, maintains on its official website that many of their schools remain open and “Interac instructors will be paid their usual salary.” ALTs whose schools are closed will be assigned “other work.”

Many ALTs are still required to attend school even if there aren’t any students.

Some eikaiwa workers reported only their lessons with children have been canceled by their schools. For these lessons instructors still receive their base pay.

There is a key legal distinction that needs to be made here regarding the nature of these “school closures.”

Last week, Abe asked all schools in Japan to close for two weeks. He also asked businesses to encourage staff to work from where possible home. As of the time of writing, no school, company or board of education in Japan has been directly ordered to close their establishment.

So, all closures in effect at the moment are at the discretion of the employer. This means they cannot, legally, refuse to pay staff, even if they do send them home. 

All ALTs, be they direct hire or dispatch, are entitled to a minimum of 60% of their regular salary even if they are told to stay home and not attend school. This is the absolute minimum, according to the General Union in Osaka.

Issues with borderline illegal practices at some shady companies in Japan are well known. As such, there may be a gap between what these companies are legally obligated to do, and what they do in reality.

What are ALTs’ rights in this situation?

In most cases, the agreements set between the BOE and dispatch companies are determined on a yearly basis. The BOE agrees to pay a set amount to the company, who then takes out around 30% for themselves and gives the rest to the ALT as salary.

This monthly fee doesn’t change whether classes are canceled or not, meaning the dispatch company is still getting paid 100% and so should the ALT.

Still, technically the company is only legally required to pay 60% of the ALT’s salary. If you are an ALT whose company is refusing to pay at least 60%, contact your local union.

The 60% rule also applies if you develop any symptoms of the virus and are instructed to self-quarantine. Again, this is because your employer is instructing you to stay home.

An employer cannot force you to take annual leave or any other type of leave to cover for closures during this time. This would amend your contractual agreement and cannot be done without the written consent of both you and your employer.

Keep calm… and wash your hands

The jury is out on whether Abe’s call to close schools was actually the right one or not, but ultimately defeating the threat this virus poses will depend far more on our individual actions than it will on the steps taken by those in government.

Now that the World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus a pandemic, there’s more fear and confusion spreading around than before. Of course, people should take precautions such as avoiding crowded places. However, we want to reiterate the most important means of protection is washing your hands.

And for the love of god, stop panic buying all the toilet paper!

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