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Tokyo's Sophia Univ. defies correction advisory over unpaid part-time instructor's wages

The Yotsuya campus of Sophia University is seen in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on May 18, 2022. (Mainichi/Kazuki Mogami)

TOKYO -- Sophia University has been slapped with a correction advisory for not paying wages to a part-time language instructor, but the school has refused to accept the written demand from the labor standards inspection office, sources close to the case have revealed to the Mainichi Shimbun.

    According to the sources, the correction advisory is based on the Labor Standards Act and is part of an administrative guidance on the assumption of a legal violation. Parties concerned are questioning the prestigious college's defiance over the administrative directive, as the school could be referred on paper to prosecutors for failing to correct its action.

    The instructor, a woman in her 60s, filed a complaint over the unpaid wages with the Tokyo Labor Bureau's Chuo Labor Standards Inspection Office. According to the written complaint and the Union of University Part-time lecturers in Tokyo Area, a labor union to which she belongs, the woman teaches an introductory Japanese language course at Sophia University. After classes went online in the 2020 academic year due to the coronavirus pandemic, she began creating teaching materials on her own.

    She claimed that while she spent a total of some 105 hours on preparing the course materials in 2020 and 2021, she was not paid some 750,000 yen (about $5,900) in wages. She deemed this as running counter to the Labor Standards Act, and filed the complaint in September 2021. The university did not pay wages to her for a total of 22 days -- or 52 class hours -- between March and May 2020 as there were no classes during that period.

    According to the labor union, the labor standards inspection office conducted a fact-finding investigation and recognized that she had been working during the period in question. As a contract the woman signed with the university contained no job descriptions about creating teaching materials, the labor standards inspection office determined that her creation of the materials was "labor entailing compensation that newly emerged." The labor office acknowledged that the university violated the Labor Standards Act, and issued an advisory dated Feb. 16, 2022, for the school to pay her wages.

    According to the woman, the university told her that the unpaid hours "were included in the wages of class hours" in explaining the reason for the nonpayment. The labor standards inspection office, however, dismissed the claim by issuing the correction advisory.

    As the university declined to accept the written advisory, an official with the labor standards inspection office reportedly read it aloud. The labor office had since twice demanded the school respond to the advisory, on Feb. 16 and March 17. The labor office set the initial deadline for a response on March 10 and the second on March 25, but the university never replied.

    The woman is upset about the school's response, saying, "It's hard to believe that an educational institution has disregarded a public advisory." Shingo Sasaki, secretary-general of the labor union, commented, "Even at famous universities with great influence, work hour management is shoddy when it comes to part-time instructors in many cases. The workers should be paid properly."

    According to the Inspection Division of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare's Labor Standards Bureau, advisories are in general issued after an illegal act has been recognized, and instructions are repeatedly given for compliance.

    Sophia School Corp., the operator of Sophia University, told the Mainichi Shimbun via email, "We are currently continuing consultations with the labor standards inspection office, and are looking into our response within the school."

    (Japanese original by Satoshi Tokairin, Tokyo City News Department)

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