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June 28, 2005

Major Eikaiwa's Seen Avoiding Insurance Shake Up

The investigation by the Social Insurance Agency into hundreds of English conversation schools nationwide looks unlikely to produce any real change. It seems that the major chain schools will be able to continue skirting the law relating to full-time employees, at least in its present form (see below). The investigation was looking for schools that fail to enroll their teachers in the company insurance scheme or fail to provide teachers with sufficient information on such schemes. The agency said it was looking at over 750 schools across the country, but the main focus was on the big five.

The biggest eikaiwa school operator, Nova, employs some 6,000 foreign teachers. It recently issued a directive to all teachers that two minutes before and after classes is designated as time for preparation or cleaning up. The remaining time between classes is "free time." The result is that teachers classed as full-timers "work" less than 30 hours a week; Berlitz Japan says that its regulations stipulate that full-timers work 28 hours a week, though in reality the figure is said to be over 30. Only 42 of the company's 1,200 foreign teachers are said to qualify for the employees' insurance scheme; ECC's stance is that none of its 700 or so foreign teachers work more than 29.5 hours a week, and so none qualify for the scheme. Aeon plans for about one third of its 650 foreign teachers to be enrolled. Geos, which employs about 600 foreign teachers, says it has not decided how to respond to the agency.

A Social Insurance Agency spokesperson said, "We expected this investigation to lead to a big increase in enrollment, but even with the new criteria it hasn't happened. There will probably continue to be confusion, but we have made progress in that people are more aware of the criteria." (from an article on

(Foreigners with resident status in Japan -- with some exceptions -- are required to be enrolled in either the national (kokumin kenko hoken) or company insurance (shakai hoken) schemes. The Social Insurance Agency last month clarified its criteria that anyone working at least three-quarters the hours of a full-time employee (40 hours a week) is entitled to join the shakai hoken scheme. Such employees pay 50% of their insurance premiums, with the employer covering the other 50%. Shakai hoken enrollment is usually lumped together with the employees' pension scheme. Regional and individual variations in the various schemes and differences in translation have led to widespread confusion regarding the various schemes. The main force behind the calls for change are the labor unions.)
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