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The ALT Dispatch Li(f)e

Recently, the Fukuoka General Union released a video that’s going a bit viral in the ex-pat circles here in Japan.

The video is simple yet poignant, telling people all they need to know about Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) Dispatch Companies and how they scam teachers every year out of getting a living wage. What kind of dispatch companies specifically are we talking about?

Heart and Borderlink are the two that first come to my mind. When I lived in Ibaraki, many schools switched to dispatch companies. Immediately thereafter, my friends and colleagues told me horror stories. Many of the Heart ALTs in Kashima and Kamisu were placed without an apartment set up for them, so they (brand new teachers without any Japanese) ended up having to be homeless for the first month of their stay in Japan. Borderlink is notorious for shaming ALTs into working long hours without overtime pay, and even skimping on salary for showing up five minutes late as a half a day’s docked pay.

I will be honest, I was shocked to learn about how much of my own dispatch company, Wing Inc., follows along the lines of the ALT dispatch company illegal practices.

This is a very complex issue, but the bottom line is that dispatch companies do everything they can to avoid enrolling their ALTs in public health and pension, known as Shakai Hoken (SH)…the main drive behind their unwillingness is that the dispatch company MUST pay 50% of the SH cost. This usually works out to about 25,000 to 30,000 yen per month (depending on income). It is on parity with the National Health Insurance (Kokumin Kenko Hoken [KKH]) but is more expensive than private (travel) insurance. (The FGU advises members not to join private insurance if at all possible as foreigners in Japan are obliged to join either SH or KKH).

At the moment, my company doesn’t pay Shakai Hoken. I pay that every month, which I wasn’t told about in my interview or my contract signing day. I knew I should’ve read it more carefully, but I was in a bind and desperate for a full time position. I also fall under an “out” that companies take here in Japan.

One way that unscrupulous dispatch companies avoid enrollment is by making employment contracts less than 30 hours per week. This is to try and create an “out” by calling on a government advisory that states that to be eligible for SH an employee must work APPROXIMATELY three quarters of a regular full time employee. Seeing the normal working week is 40 hours, anything under 30 hours is less than three quarters. Therefore, by making contracts 29.5 hours work per week, the company claims that the ALT is under the threshold. It should be noted that the FGU believes that even teaching 29.5 hours per week ALTs are eligible as the advisory states that it is APPROXIMATELY three quarters (概ね3/4).

Everyone who is foreign and working in Japan knows about this practice. Actually, it’s becoming more of a problem as time goes on. Japan Times recently did an article called “For Japan’s English teachers, rays of hope amid the race to the bottom,” wherein  discussed the unfair playing field set up by eikaiwas (private/business lesson English schools) as well as dispatch companies:

… the infamous 29½-hour workweek, which has become the industry-standard method for eikaiwa chains to minimize their labor costs. Giving teachers schedules of less than 30 hours has allowed these firms to classify their teachers as part-timers, thereby avoiding enrolling them in the national shakai hoken social insurance program, under which the company is required to pay half its employees’ health insurance and pension premiums….

The big news for 2016 is that for teachers working for large firms — i.e., those with over 500 employees — the 29½-hour rule should cease to be an issue from October, when new labor regulations will require these firms to enroll all workers who put in at least 20 hours a week in the shakai hoken program…

Meanwhile, other firms, such as Gaba, continue to sidestep the troublesome issues of thresholds and so on altogether by denying that their teachers are staff at all. Making use of itaku, or subcontractor, status — an increasingly popular tactic among companies within and outside eikaiwa — Gaba evades all the responsibilities an employer would usually have toward its employees: no sick leave, no pension, no insurance, no paid holidays, no overtime rates.

Coco Juku, Nova, and other eikaiwas will try their best to sell foreign native teachers on the idea that their per hour pay is competitive. But what they fail to inform most people applying is that most lessons are 50 minutes, not a full hour. However, having worked for Coco Juku myself, when I was there I was given a standard 10 days vacation package and health insurance and pension coverage. I don’t know if Coco Juku will fall in line with Gaba one day and change their teachers to itaku status, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

I was told that I would be working from 8:20-5:00 every day. However, I have to arrive at my school early because of train times. Technically, I am working 40 hours per week, but Wing Inc. wouldn’t ever allow that to get put down on paper. Also, Wing Inc. took 4 of my vacation days away, for no reason as far as I can tell besides they don’t want to pay for them.

In general, most schools don’t know what’s going on with the dispatch companies. All they know is that they’re paying the company a hefty sum of money to employ the government mandated native teachers. In terms of insurance, pension, and so on, they generally have no idea that the teachers are getting screwed over. But there are definitely blinders thrown up when an ALT or an eikaiwa teacher brings up their rights and how they’re being treated.

Usually, the only way to fight against any system is to get a lawyer, join a union, and turn in a complaint to the labor office. All these options cost money, more Japanese know how than most native teachers possess, and the information that they actually can fight in the first place. Before moving to Japan, join a union, know what your employer covers, and know your rights as an employee in Japan.


The Fukuoka General Union also has some videos from NHK, a Japanese national news station, which discusses all of the dispatch and sub-contracting woes. Japanese only, sorry!

Do you have an ALT dispatch or eikaiwa horror story to share? Feel free to talk about it in the comment section!

4 thoughts on “The ALT Dispatch Li(f)e

  1. Like I said, I went anyway.

    Thanks to you for writing this. I didn’t know it had gotten this bad. I remember stories of friends who worked at Nova about how they were always being screwed over. I had it easy compared to most.


  2. Excellent advice at the end. I did a stint with a small eikaiwa years ago. They we fair to me even though I worked less than 35hrs in the classroom. I did have to spend time creating lesson plans at home, etc. I think part of the problem is people are so scared to fight back. When I was told I had to miss the birth of my first child I told them to stick it where the sun don’t shine. There was no recourse and life went on. Bob Marley said it best “Get Up Stand Up, Stand Up For Your Rights”.


    1. Wow! They told you you couldn’t leave to see your child?! That’s crazy. At Coco Juku we had a wife and husband together. They both got time off for the baby. I’m sorry that happened to you!


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