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April 28, 2009

Berlitz Japan's legal action against teachers drags on

judge.jpegThe second hearing in Berlitz's lawsuit against unionized teachers was very short. According to the Japan Times: 'One judge complained that after reading the company's recently filed documents he still couldn't understand their reasoning for why the strike was illegal. He told Berlitz's lawyers to provide a concise and understandable summary of their arguments before the next hearing.'

Last December Berlitz filed a lawsuit against five teachers and two union officials claiming that strikes for improved working conditions that had been carried out over the previous year were illegal. The strikes had been carried out by about 100 teachers at Berlitz branches in the Kanto area. The teachers had been making demands for extra pay to compensate for extra teaching hours at a time when Berlitz's profits seemed to be high.

It is very rare for a company to sue striking workers and there is little precedent for the action that Berlitz is taking. Article 28 of the Japanese constitution states that 'the right of workers to organize and to bargain and act collectively is guaranteed.' Berlitz seems to be claiming that the union intended that the strike would damage the company and so is illegal, but their reasoning still needs to be clarified. It now appears likely that the legal battle will drag on for some time.

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