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Public high school teacher launches petition to combat excessive overtime hours

In this June 1, 2018 photo, an anonymous public high school teacher calling for the revision of a law concerning the pay and working conditions for public school teachers holds the book "Kyoshi no Black Zangyo" (Teachers' black overtime), in which he contributed a chapter on the law. (Mainichi)

A public high school teacher has launched an online petition calling for the revision of legislation that he says considers the overtime work of teachers as voluntary labor, and thus causes the long and unpaid hours of Japan's educators.

The online petition started accepting signatures this February, requesting that government officials, such as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Yoshimasa Hayashi, revise the Act on Special Measures concerning Salaries and Other Conditions for Education Personnel of Public Compulsory Education Schools etc. The teacher at the head of the petition is calling for "all teachers to raise their voices," because "nothing will change if we just sit and watch."

The teacher, in his 30s, currently works at a public high school in the Chubu region in central Japan. Doubtful of the system in which all teachers are also required to work as an adviser for an extracurricular school club, he began writing his opinions about the labor conditions at public schools on Twitter under the pen name "Hidemi Saito." While he keeps his activities hidden at his workplace, he is an adviser for a culture club chosen during a meeting with school management, and tries to leave work on time whenever possible.

The Agency for Cultural Affairs has begun debate over coming up with guidelines to limit the hours of activities for culture clubs in the same way that the Sports Agency has set rules for school sports clubs. But even then, some colleagues of the teacher are still working late into the night. Thus, he started to feel that something had to be done to improve the working environment for teachers.

When debate about work-style reform in education came into full swing at the Central Council for Education last September, the teacher established the volunteer group "Genshoku Shingikai (Council of practicing teachers)" to air the grievances of exhausted teachers, and he monitored the discussions at the education council as often as possible.

When he and fellow educators thought about the long working hours of teachers represented by their duties to school club activities, they always concluded that it came down to the wording of the law on teachers' salaries. Enacted in 1971, the act specifies that 4 percent of a teacher's base salary is added as "adjustment costs" for the extra labor, but stipulates that any overtime is to be unpaid.

He was alarmed that the law acknowledges overtime spent on class preparation and club activities as voluntary labor, and thought that "if nothing changes, it will crush teachers with passion." He wants the law to be revised so limits are set for maximum overtime hours, and that teachers be compensated for that time, in hopes of some control over work conditions.

The teacher edited and wrote the book "Kyoshi no Black Zangyo (Teachers' black overtime)" in tandem with Ryo Uchida, an associate professor at Nagoya University, who is known for his own book critical of unreasonable labor conditions for teachers, "Black Bukatsudo (Black club activities)."

The teacher's book was published by Gakuyo Shobo in June, and he wrote a chapter called "Genshoku Kyoin ga Ugokidashita! (Practicing teachers have begun to take action!)," describing his experiences and the problematic points in the law. He commented, "Now is the time to change the working environment for teachers."

The online petition currently has about 17,500 signatures, and will be submitted to officials, including the prime minister, in the near future. It can be accessed on the petition website

(Japanese original by Takuya Izawa, City News Department)

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