Why should I join?

Different people join unions for different reasons. Some join in the hope of improving their working conditions; others to prevent a decline in their current conditions. Many, however, join for reasons of solidarity—simply because they believe in unions and in working to maintain the dignity of people’s jobs. We believe these are all good reasons. If any of the above apply to you, we hope that you will join with us and encourage your colleagues to do so as well.

As student enrollment falls, universities are looking for ways to cut costs—often by cutting jobs and salaries, enforcing non-renewable contracts, and outsourcing teaching work to agencies. The power of an individual to do anything when their job security is threatened is limited. As a member of UTU you will get help and advice from experienced members and gain the support of our parent union NUGW Tokyo Nambu. Through regular mailings and meetings, you will also be kept up to date with the activities of the union and have the chance to support other workers in their fight to protect their jobs. Those who wait until they have their own problems before joining a union often find it is too late. It is never too soon to get involved.

Could I lose my job by joining?

This is a regularly voiced question. The answer is that it is not legal to fire someone for union membership. The right to join a union is guaranteed under Japan’s constitution.

It might be wiser to ask if you could lose your job if you do not join the union. For example, if you are not a union member and on a limited-term contract (i.e., a contract which limits your term of employment, usually one or three years), a university could simply choose not to renew your contract. If you are a union member, however, and the union raises the issue of your non-renewal, you are protected under the provisions of Article 28 of Japan’s constitution and Article 7 of Japan’s labor union law.

Companies frequently fire non-union employees for complaining about working conditions, and some of the clauses in contracts that many universities compel foreign instructors to sign are strictly in violation of both the Constitution and immigration law. Without the advice and support of a union, discovering and contesting such unethical and illegal practices is next to impossible.

Additionally, there have recently been initiatives taken by Japan’s Education Ministry to pressure universities not to renew the contracts of older foreign teachers, and there are also moves to do away with the tenure system at schools, which would make it easier to fire any teacher—regardless of age and nationality—at the whim of administrators. UTU is working together with other Japanese unions to fight these types of anti-worker legislation and policies.

As a union member, you would receive the help of more experienced members in fighting limited-term contracts, unfair dismissals, and other infringements of Japanese labor law. As an individual there is little you can do to fight against a university. Together with other teachers across the country, you can put considerable pressure on your school.

How much are union dues?

Dues are levied to cover two main areas:

  • NUGW dues of ¥24,000 per year, to cover the cost of staff, publications, recruiting and organizing campaigns and actions.
  • UTU dues of ¥6,000 per year to cover UTU-specific costs.

Though the dues may seem expensive, consider them as a kind of insurance policy and a practical contribution to solidarity. Union dues can be considered another kind of essential insurance premium these days with an increasingly unstable employment market.

Is UTU concerned with educational standards?

Yes, our members are dedicated professional teachers. However, UTU is principally concerned with supporting teachers as they seek to protect and improve their working conditions on campus. The Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) offers a forum for discussing pedagogical ideas.

Can UTU provide legal support to its members?

Our parent union, NUGW Tokyo Nambu, is legally registered as a labor union under Japanese law. It has the power to represent teachers in negotiations with schools when teachers feel they have been unfairly treated in some way. If you join UTU, NUGW can act on your behalf.

Can UTU help me if I am not a union member?

A union’s first responsibility is to its members. After all, they are the ones who have contributed time and money to make the union what it is.