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English teacher to sue Nagasaki U. over dismissal day before unfixed contract eligibility

Luc Loosveldt is seen describing the circumstances around the termination of his employment, in Nagasaki, Nagasaki Prefecture, on July 10, 2019. (Mainichi/Takehiro Higuchi)

NAGASAKI -- A Belgian instructor of English whose contract with Nagasaki University was ended just before he would have been eligible to claim an unfixed term of employment is set to sue the institution next month.

Luc Loosveldt, 59, will lodge a suit at the Nagasaki District Court to have his position as an assistant professor of English recognized, which he worked as for eight years at the national institution in southwestern Japan.

He says the university ended his fixed term contract in February this year to avoid having to employ him on an unfixed term one, which became required by a 2012 amendment to the law that makes workers eligible for the change after 5 years of employment.

Loosveldt would have been eligible for the upgrade if he had received a three-year contract, just as the previous two had been, when he renewed his contract in March 2017. But instead the university handed him a two-year one. Additionally, they provided it only in Japanese, which Loosveldt has difficulty reading and writing.

Originally from Belgium and a resident in the town of Togitsu, Nagasaki Prefecture, Loosveldt was first hired by the university in March 2011 on a three-year fixed contract to teach medical English to students in its school of medicine.

At the time he was hired, he received a notice of the terms of his employment in Japanese and in English. But his renewals in March 2014 and March 2017 were both provided without translation.

In his second renewal, the period of employment was reduced to two years, less than in the previous two documents. But Loosveldt said that because the information came only in Japanese, he hadn't realized there was a change. He says he first became aware of it when the university informed him in November 2018 that his contract would elapse at the end of February 2019.

Under August 2012 amendments to the Labor Contracts Act, employees are given the right to apply for an unfixed term contract, if their renewed employment agreement leads to a recorded period of service exceeding five years.

Had Loosveldt's March 2017 contract extension been for three years, as the preceding two agreements were, or if the two-year contract he was given in March 2017 was renewed for another two years beyond March 2019, he would have met the requirement for a change in his treatment.

Loosveldt said that he felt like he had been tricked by the university into losing his rights to an unfixed term contract by its pursuit of an agreement he did not fully understand. He added that it was not an appropriate course of action from an educational institution that has a responsibility to uphold society's values.

In response to calls for comment from the Mainichi Shimbun, Nagasaki University said, "Our notion was that he could understand Japanese, so the document was provided in Japanese. The reason for the decision not to renew Loosveldt's contract was due to his lessons being changed to an (internet-based) e-learning program, and was not because of attempts to avoid a switch to an unfixed term contract."

(Japanese original by Takehiro Higuchi, Kyushu News Department)

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