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School operator in Japan terminates faculty contracts after union launch

Nagoya Sangyo University and Nagoya Management Junior College are seen in the city of Owariasahi, Aichi Prefecture, in November 2021. (Mainichi/ Shinichiro Kawase)

NAGOYA -- A school operator in central Japan ended its contract with an associate professor and issued a termination notice to another professor after the pair formed a union, sources revealed to the Mainichi Shimbun on Dec. 5.

    The pair are the chairwoman and the general secretary of a teachers' union at Nagoya Sangyo University and Nagoya Management Junior College, both run by Kikutake Gakuen school corporation in the city of Owariasahi, Aichi Prefecture.

    The teachers' union has denounced the school operator's move as "retaliation against union activities that constitutes unfair labor practices." It has also filed for dispute mediation with the prefectural labor relations commission, demanding that the school retract the terminations.

    According to the sources, the associate professor, a woman in her 40s and the union chair, left her job at the end of March. Based on a mediation proposal from the prefectural labor relations commission, the school corporation paid her settlement money.

    The associate professor was initially employed as a specially appointed instructor at Nagoya Management Junior College in the 2012 academic year and was promoted to associate professor in academic 2016, according to the sources and other information. She launched the union with a professor at the same junior college -- a woman in her 50s -- and others on Nov. 24, 2020 because the school operator's response to the coronavirus pandemic was unclear.

    However, the day after they notified the school operator about the union, its president Hiroe Takagi informed the associate professor that her employment contract would not be renewed after academic 2021.

    The associate professor applied to the prefectural labor relations commission for dispute mediation. The school operator maintained that the contract termination was due to her taking time off from work without notice and other reasons. However, it emerged that the school had treated online lectures she gave from home amid the coronavirus crisis as absences. The Seto labor standards inspection office eventually issued an advisory to the corporation to rectify its actions.

    After the associate professor left the school at the end of March, she and the school operator reached a monetary compensation agreement by June. She is still head of the teachers' union.

    Meanwhile, the female professor serving as the union general secretary was informed by Takagi in March that her employment contract would not be renewed from academic 2022. Takagi explained that it was because the professor "lacked instructions at her seminars and did not hold some lectures."

    After the union's launch, Takagi reportedly told the professor, "You've joined a weird organization, haven't you?" and "Are you going to stay with it?" in what could be taken as an attempt to put pressure on union activities.

    Furthermore, Takagi also reportedly told the professor -- who is from Taiwan and sometimes speaks in Chinese on campus -- "You must not use (Chinese) as this is a school in Japan," and "Faculty members must not (speak English) amongst themselves," among other comments.

    The union claims that "not just unfair labor practices, but also power harassment and discrimination against foreign nationals are rampant" at the junior college.

    The school corporation told the Mainichi Shimbun, "We'd like to respond to the matter sincerely while listening to the opinions of third parties so we can reach a compromise. There has been no discrimination against foreign individuals, and they've arbitrarily interpreted the situation."

    (Japanese original by Shinichiro Kawase, Nagoya News Center)

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