Last year when I was in the Osaka based General Union, we received an email from an Interac ALT who was rather upset because she had been fired for being pregnant. Martina (name changed) was set to have her contract renewed with her school where she was loved by her students and teachers. Her contract had already been promised to her verbally and her schools and students were looking forward to her return. Then, people in the Yokohama office found out something that they viewed as a major inconvenience to their business, Martina was pregnant and would be giving birth during the middle of the school year.
They told her that in light of her condition, it would be too much trouble for them to find a replacement in the middle of the school term, and had decided to go with someone else who was less…. pregnant.
Needless to say, this was quite upsetting. Everyone with a family knows that having a baby is expensive, and the money lost in this case was going to put a major dent in the savings of the mother to be. Combine this with the stress placed upon her by the entire insulting ordeal, and it is easy to draw the conclusion that Martina faced a risk to the health of herself and her child.
I was in the process of moving from Osaka to Tokyo, and was elected to take care of the case since I would be transferring my membership to the Tokyo FWC. I was pleasantly surprised that I only had to send one email to rectify the situation:
Date: Sat, 5 Apr 2008 02:24:05 +0900 (JST)
Subject: Inquiry concerning Interac Employment
Hello Joel Norton,
I have a question regarding Martina XXXXXXXX.
Who exactly was it that gave the order to not renew her
contract due to her pregnancy?
I ask this because as a union member, I study quite a bit
of labor law and this is horribly, blatantly illegal (not
to mention morally heinous).
The Tokyo (Nambu) branch of the Interac union will
probably be the branch that takes this case to the Labor
Bureau, but I thought I would ask who gave the order
specifically so that the union members will know who
specifically to name when bringing the case before the
bureau. I was thinking that we should just turn over your
name, but then I realized that you probably have a
supervisor that may have given you the order.
Thanks in advance for your expedient cooperation.
A declared member of the General Union Interac Branch
(you can call the Osaka Interac office to confirm my
membership in the General Union if you feel the need to do
PS – here is an excerpt of the law that has been broken here:
For the exact laws that say it is illegal to fire someone
for being pregnant you need this PDF, check pages starting
with page 18:
“Phase III” of the Japanese Equal Employment Opportunity Act
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This link is no longer active, so I have uploaded the PDF that was available here. – Erich: Pregnancy Law )
(1) Forced Retirement by Reason of Marriage, Pregnancy or
Childbirth, and Dismissal for Marriage
“Paragraph 1 of Article 9 prohibits employers from
stipulating “marriage, pregnancy or childbirth” as a reason for
retirement of female workers, and Paragraph 2 of the same
article states that employers shall not dismiss female
workers for marriage. These provisions were contained in
the former EEOA, although dismissal for marriage was
prohibited together with dismissals by reason of
pregnancy, childbirth or maternity leaves taken before and
after childbirth. These are dealt with separately in
Paragraph 3 of Article 9, as shown below. ”
“(3) Dismissal during Pregnancy or in the First Year after
Childbirth Moreover, Paragraph 4 of Article 9 was added as an
entirely new provision, which says that dismissal of
female workers who are pregnant or in the first year after
childbirth shall be “void.” At first glance this provision appears rather
drastic, but the following proviso states that this shall
not apply in the event that employers prove that the
dismissal is not for reasons prescribed in Paragraph 3 of
Article 9. Hence, this is in essence a change in the
burden of proof. Nonetheless, it will be of great
significance in the real workplace that the dismissal is
presumed to be void, since employers have to refrain from
dismissing female workers in the absence of a fully
persuasive reason for termination.
Article 9 (Prohibition, etc. of Disadvantageous Treatment
by Reason of Marriage, Pregnancy, Childbirth, etc.)
(1) Employers shall not stipulate marriage, pregnancy or
childbirth as a reason for retirement of women workers.
(2) Employers shall not dismiss women workers for
(3) Employers shall not dismiss or give disadvantageous
treatment to women workers by reason of pregnancy,
childbirth, or for requesting absence from work as
prescribed in Article 65, paragraph 1, of the Labor
Standards Act (Act No. 49 of 1947), or having taken
absence from work as prescribed in the same Article,
paragraph 1 or 2, of the same act, or by other reasons
relating to pregnancy, childbirth as provided by Ordinance
of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
(4) Dismissal of women workers who are pregnant or in the
first year after childbirth shall be void. However, this
shall not apply in the event that the employer proves that
the dismissal in question was not for reasons prescribed
in the preceding paragraph.”
Within a few days of receiving this email, they had called Martina into the office to negotiate. They gave her a settlement of double the amount she would have made had she worked until she had planned to quit. They weren’t exactly kind to her in their negotiations, but they did at least do what they should have in lieu of hiring her back if they had already hired her replacement.
It really is a shame that Interac had to be threatened with legal action to do the right thing, but at least they did the right thing in the end. I hate to imagine what would have happened had there been no union to question the decision making of the management.
I contacted Martina in March of this year, and she told me that she might be going to start working for Interac again this year. When I contacted her a few weeks ago to ask how she was doing… She told me this:
“Mr. Will Smith had promised to hire me back a few months before the start of the school year, but beginning of April I got a call from him telling me that they didn’t need me to teach at Interac. They had no explanation for it.”
Disappointing, but not surprising.
Seek help, learn your rights, and fight back the way that Martina did.
Don’t let yourself be a victim.