The “5 Year Rule”

By Daniel Ostrander

On April 1 of this year, a revision to article 19 of the Labor Law in Japan will take effect. Wait, wait! Keep reading, because this does concern you!

The abridged version is that if you’re working for a private employer on a limited term contract (which I will call “LTC”) that has been renewed 5 times, beginning with the following contract you have the right to request an unlimited term contract (“UTC”). And while the ramifications for this change could be huge, there are still a lot of questions. To clear it up, I sat down with Will Taylor, the Chair of the Tokai Branch of the General Union.

According to Will the revision came about back in 2012 during a brief window when the Democratic Party of Japan (Minshuto) was running the government. They did what liberal parties do: they passed some progressive laws. However, this particular change wasn’t about foreign teachers at all.

“This is going to help industrial workers more than anyone,” according to Will. “One thing many westerners living in Japan lose sight of is that our percentage here is minuscule. We aren’t as big as we like to think we are.” But as a side-effect, many teachers will be affected by this change.

This includes LTC employees for dispatch companies, as well as regular English-school (eikaiwa) workers and people who work for private schools. University teachers as well can benefit but, “if a university declares that a person’s position has a research component, they get a 10 year window as opposed to the 5 year.” What exactly a research component is, is TBD. Which is the main concern for this law: so many of the factors are unknown. It’s brand new and it’s going to take time to figure it all out.

What is known is that some people are not covered. Will explained that “if you are working for a city as a direct hire, this does not apply to you. Public high schools as well.” He went on to say that there are some changes in the pipeline for those workers, but they won’t know more until closer to 2020.

Also, if your contract has a limit of less than 5 years, you are probably not eligible for the 5 Year Rule. But it is worth noting that this change is backdated to 2012. Will explained that “a contract limit could not be added for people employed when the law was passed.”

However, if you qualify for this change, it is your responsibility to know about it. Some employers have been forthcoming, notifying their employees about the change, but others have been silent. “While an employer cannot refuse it, they do not have to offer it,” Will stressed. “It is on the employee to request it.”

Now, just to clarify, this isn’t the same as becoming full time or getting tenure.

According to Will, “Tenure is not a good comparison. A better way to look at it is as a removal of doubt in terms of whether or not your job will continue.”

He also wanted to clarify that this change from LTC to UTC does not ensure that your contract terms will get better. They cannot make them worse, but they are not under any obligation to make it better. “But they never were.”

The reaction from employers has “run the gamut”. Some have accepted the change with openness, but others have flat out refused to adhere. The General Union is currently helping their members with some of these complaints, taking their cases straight to the Labor Board. But they don’t have the resources to help everyone.

“We can only put out so many fires,” admitted Will. But they are always willing to provide information. And if you are not a member, and your employer refuses to follow the new provision, “you shouldn’t have to hire a lawyer for this.” You can just take your case straight to the Labor Board. It doesn’t require representation, but it does take time.

“The next few months are going to play out fairly interestingly,” Will admitted. “I definitely encourage people to join the General Union. If you have questions get in touch with us.” And most importantly, “Be aware of your rights.”

For more information on your rights, and if you are interested in joining the General Union, head to:

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