Japan Times covers the Berlitz Japan union case.

Hat tip to Sean Shawn of Let’s Japan, who sometimes starts my hit counter buzzing. The Japan Times has a Zeit Gist story today about the ongoing, multi-million dollar litigation between the Begunto union and Berlitz Japan.

One of my friends, Catherine Campbell, is quoted in the story. Catherine had late-stage breast cancer, which was diagnosed last year. (She is also one of the parties named in the Begunto lawsuit.) I learned about this last summer from her directly, but of course didn’t say anything here.

According to the article, because Berlitz Japan refused to cover Catherine under the employer-based Shakai Hoken program, Catherine had to return to Canada for medical treatment. (More on that, below.) She requested an unpaid leave of absence, which was granted. When she had to extend the leave, Berlitz Japan fired her.

Three points I am wondering about:

1) Since Japan and Canada both have enacted the Canada-Japan totalization treaty, why Berlitz Japan was able to deny Catherine the Shakai Hoken benefit? The Canada treaty, like the one Japan has with America, specifically states that each member party’s citizens will receive equal treatment under the social insurance laws. This means the actual law, not some lackluster standard of enforcement that Japan usually does.

I’m not Canadian, but I am confused why something like this isn’t a diplomatic issue at the moment. If a Japanese gets cancer in Canada, do they get reduced medical care and kicked out of a job?

2) I am not sure if Catherine was enrolled in Kokumin Kenko Hoken, which should have covered it. It may in fact have been a matter that the Canada program of coverage was more comprehensive? And also, that any disability benefit would have been better? I know that the unions harp (rightly so) on the matter that the Shakai Hoken is the best thing to be in, and that non-Japanese are routinely denied access to it. And what they should be emphasizing is that it is a treaty violation. But I do think something is missing in that part of the story.

3) If Berlitz Japan is screwing around with U.S. service members who are reservists, it really needs to be brought to the attention of Congressman Rush Holt, in whose district is the headquarters of Berlitz U.S.A. Even though Berlitz Japan is ultimately owned by Benesse, a Japanese company, it operates through Berlitz that is headquartered in New Jersey, right around the corner from Congressman Holt’s district office in West Windsor. (They might also give the embassy in Tokyo a try, just in case some of that federal money is being spent there.)

Berlitz itself receives millions in U.S. federal contracts. Right now, it mistreats our reservists and then takes federal money!

It’s good to have an update on the Begunto case, but sad to hear that much of the news has been unfavorable, except for Catherine’s coming through.

18 thoughts on “Japan Times covers the Berlitz Japan union case.

  1. From Let’s Japan:

    —One of the reasons why conditions are so bad in eikaiwa is because the schools have been allowed to get away with their shady practices and abuse for so long. Part of it has to do with the lack of regulation of the industry, but another reason is that few teachers have chosen to stand up to their employers. It’s always been easier to jump ship and find something better. But with Japan’s moribund economy, those days are over. There are few good options left for teachers: 1) Don’t teach English in Japan (don’t bother with it in the first place) or 2) Don’t be a pushover in the first place.

    As I’ve said before, this is worth fighting for. You can’t let yourself be pushed around. The alternative is to let eikaiwa schools forever stomp on you—

    Here’s where I disagree. An eikaiwa job is not worth fighting for and if your reason for coming to Japan to teach center around making money then don’t come. An Eikaiwa job has never been designed for anything other than a short-term stay even back in the day when jobs were plentiful.

    Now does this excuse the crummy working environment? No, but given that usually the only requirement is to a native speaker of English and hold a proper visa you’ll always fine someone willing to take the gig no matter how crappy since it still beats washing dishes or digging a ditch.

    My advice? Visit Japan for a month or two. See the countryside and travel about but that’s it.

    Go to China to teach instead! That’s the future of Asia and where I would be heading if I were 25 years younger!!

    1. An Eikaiwa job has never been designed for anything other than a short-term stay even back in the day when jobs were plentiful.

      This goes to my recurring point about how the Eikaiwa industry is left unregulated so that Japan has a holding pen for short-term, gap year stayers.

      Additionally:

      The Government here historically has wanted English for the (Upper) Classes, not English for the Masses.

      The failure of English studiers in Japan to pick up the language is directly related to the poor quality of REGULATION of English teaching in Japan. The people in both government and the corporate world who are against English don’t really want the general discussion to go that way. But it’s hard not to conclude this.

  2. Hoofin,

    Re Catherine’s medical coverage. If she was under kokumin kenko hoken, her hospital bills would have been covered, but unlike the company shakai hoken plan, it doesn’t entitle you to 2/3 pay while you’re off sick.

    Ken44: Point taken. If you’re thinking about coming to Japan, don’t stay long and have an exit plan. That said, if you have any pride, you still would not (should not) let yourself be taken advantage of.

  3. Hospital bills do not get “covered” under either corporate health insurance or kokumin insurance. Either one covers 70%, and you pay the remaining 30% out of pocket. That’s a ton of money even in a country with no meaningful legal recourse for malpractice. There are insured people in Japan who end up filing for bankruptcy because of medical bills. And this is why you see so much marketing for supplemental insurance policies (including “cancer insurance”) which fill the gaps not covered by basic health insurance plans.

    My initial reaction when reading this story, not knowing any of the back details, was that Catherine might have turned down insurance on the assumption that she could save money while taking advantage of Canada’s free (and probably superior) health care if necessary. I know some Australian people who do exactly this and have no regrets about it, but you shouldn’t expect the system here to protect you if you are gaming around paying into it.

    The reservist’s story honestly strikes me as silly. To my knowledge, reserve duty does not exist in Japan: you are either in the SDF full-time or you are a full-time civilian. Whether or not your periodic military service is legally protected in your home country, you shouldn’t expect to demand periodic leaves of absence from a full-time employer in another country. In fact, many companies’ work rules would prohibit this outright, as they usually ban outside employment unless the primary full-time employer has requested it for business reasons (i.e. secondment).

    1. Joe, I think generally when people say “covered”, they mean that insurance pays a major portion of the coverage. The 30% here is obviously based on price system designed for an insured member. There is no way a doctor’s consultation service costs 1200 yen, where I only pay 360 yen (30%). Yet this is what I paid at a Tokai Daigaku Tokyo Hospital to talk about X-rays for my foot.

      I think both the employer and the city-based health insurances have a major medical cap of about $800 per month or per illness. (I think it’s per illness.) Are people actually going bankrupt who are covered? The Japanese say this is virtually unheard-of, whenever I’ve seen commentary.

      I happen to know Catherine, like I said in the blog piece, and I doubt she would go without health and pension coverages here. She really respects Japan and the law. She is a PR and speaks Japanese, and knows about all these legal requirements. It sounds more likely (and I don’t know for sure), that she didn’t have the disability coverage to pursue treatment in Japan, and so went back home where someone could help take care of her.

      I think the reservist’s story is a big concern. Even though Berlitz Japan is ultimately owned by Benesse, a Japanese company, it does business through Berlitz International in New Jersey. Berlitz gets millions in U.S. federal contracts. A lot of these are with the American State and Defense Departments, I assume.

      How likely would the Obama Administration continue to approve these contracts if it found out how U.S. army reservists who live overseas happened to be treated by companies that get federal contracts? “Here, take our money, Big Business, and treat our military men like crap?”

      Also, I know it’s the case with American “controlled” corporations doing business overseas that Americans are protected by U.S. civil rights laws. Although serving the army is not a civil right, I wouldn’t be surprised that the employment laws protecting army reservists don’t extend somehow to reservists who work for foreign affiliates of American companies. (I haven’t done the legal research and am only speculating. I do know about civil rights part, though.)

      Again, Berlitz International benefits from American incorporation. But then may not play by the rules, making some Japanese excuse.

  4. Yes, Joe, I knew that. I was vague in my writing. Thanks for pointing that out. As for the reservist’s story, SDF? Typo Joe? The US military does have Reserve duty in Japan. It’s called Drilling Individual Mobilization Augmentee (DIMA)[http://www.usarj.army.mil/reserves/], so his story isn’t far-fetched. I agree that he doesn’t appear to have a very strong case seeing as Berlitz allowed him to take several unpaid leaves.

    1. Shawn, as I mention in my other response, I wouldn’t be surprised if Berlitz International, which is based in New Jersey, might have some responsibility to reservists who work in its foreign affiliates. I don’t know the answer for sure–it can be someone’s legal research. But the idea would be trade off for American incorporation is that America has some say over how that reservist is treated. I think of U.S. companies that might set up affiliates in Ciudad Juarez or Tijuana and stick employees there in order to get around American labor protections.

  5. I wasn’t calling the guy’s story far-fetched. I was calling it far-fetched to believe that a Japanese company would cooperate with a system that only exists in the United States (well, for US citizens in the US military) and that is obstructive to regular operations.

    My guess (only a guess) is the opposite of Hoofin’s. I don’t think using the Berlitz name has anything to do with cooperating with reserve duty. Benesse is essentially a franchisee, from what I understand, and US law has practically nothing to do with their labor relations.

    1. Joe, I don’t have the exact answers on this by any means. The approach I’m taking is simply to ask if Berlitz Japan is tied to Berlitz in New Jersey. Depending on that tie, the reservist might have a chance.

      This is my comment at Debito’s: here

      Under definitions in the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), 38 U.S.C. section 4303:

      http://www.dol.gov/vets/usc/vpl/usc38.htm#4303

      “(3) The term ‘employee’ means any person employed by an employer. Such term includes any person who is a citizen, national, or permanent resident alien of the United States employed in a workplace in a foreign country by an employer that is an entity incorporated or otherwise organized in the United States or that is controlled, by an entity organized in the United States,” [Emphasis added.]

      The whole key is the word “controlled”. I know the definition for the Civil Rights Act–it’s from a 1965 Supreme Court case commonly called Radio Union, but does the USERRA use the same one? If it’s a Japanese company, the US law would still apply to the American parent if the parent controls the Japanese subsidiary.

  6. Three points.

    1) I don’t know what kind of health coverage someone from Catherine Campbell’s province would be eligible for after living in Japan. In the province I’m from I’d be shit out of luck if I tried to go back to Canada for medical treatment because I’m not a resident.

    Anyway, as the article points out her problem was not medical insurance coverage but how to live for a year without any income. Shakai Hoken would have provided 2/3 of her income for 18 months. Kokumin hoken doesn’t cover income lost for health reasons.

    2) Berlitz Japan’s reason for firing the reservist was not because he wanted to take military leave. The article gives no indication of how long the reservist worked at Berlitz or the exact number of times he asked for time off or how long was between each time.

    But as the article says, the stated reason in his dismissal letter was poor performance of duty. Nothing in the dismissal letter about trying to take time off again. Berlitz just happened to fire him just before he deployed and forced him to fight his dismissal from a war zone.

    3) Japan does have reserves. I’ve excused university students who had to skip classes to go on maneuvers.

    1. Treblekicker,

      1) I don’t know for sure, but I assume Catherine was in the kokumin kenko hoken. You are right that if she didn’t have a separate disability policy, she didn’t have anything for income support. KKH pays nothing, but I think there is a disability provision to the kokumin nenkin (public pension). I’m not sure how that works.

      2) The reservist is anonymous, except for the fact that he’s an American. I have gathered from quickie legal research that he probably is covered under USERRA if Berlitz International in New Jersey “controlled” Berlitz Japan in July 2009. (Control is a term of art, depending on a four-factor test, where any one or more of the four items could be controlling.) So this is not about whether the reservist was entitled to the leave the self-defense forces get, but rather whether Berlitz in America is liable for the actions of its controlled subsidiary.

      I highly doubt that anyone from the union pointed the anonymous reservist to the U.S. Department of Labor on that, or if military buddies are up on the law enough to know about that provision (38 USC 4303(3) and 4319).

      Under the US act, it doesn’t matter what excuse the company gives for a firing. The Department of Labor still must investigate the charge.

      3) I forget who asked whether Japan had reserves, but I’m not sure it’s relevant.

      1. Five years seems to be the time dealt with in USERRA. Only when a reservist hits the five-year mark are there some issues about whether relief can be had through the act.

  7. Looking it up on Wikipedia because I’m too lazy for anything else in the summer and there were 57,000 SDF reservists in 2005.

  8. Hey guys. Some interesting conversation is going on here.
    Actually I agree with the comments made about Catherine Campbell. I hear that Berlitz group doesn’t care about people with serious illness. On the other hand, the ***** who went to Afghanistan is an other story. I know this **** for about 6-7 years from the base. He is one of the ***** teacher, co-worker, and reserve I have ever seen. He is very selfish. If you want to go up to a US senator or to the US embassy for this ***** then go ahead, but I would not ***** my time.

    I hope that Catherine Campbell will be able to get her job back. My support is with her.

    1. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I just generally support our (US) military, even though, yes, some of them can be not very pleasant or always on their best behavior. My point is that you should not lose your job if you are called up to serve. That is bottom line. You can be the biggest **** in the world, and you should still have your civil rights protection, ne?

      I haven’t spoken to Catherine in a while, but I hope that she is doing OK.

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