Japan: Union-led ongoing campaign to demand a reform of educators’ working conditions

published 12 October 2023 updated 17 October 2023

The Japan Teachers' Union (JTU) has launched a campaign urging the government to ensure the well-being of teachers and education support personnel, improve their living and working conditions, and invest in educators and the public education system.

The campaign is titled “School Crisis! Reform Educators Working Conditions” and seeks to address the excessive workload of teachers who have increasingly long working hours without any additional pay. The latest JTU 2022 survey revealed that primary school teachers work on average 10 hours and 31 minutes on weekdays, lower secondary teachers 11 hours and 16 minutes, and upper secondary 9 hours and 44 minutes. This leads to serious issues, such as a nationwide teacher shortage, young people not choosing to become teachers and the endangerment of the sustainability of the public school system.

Even though the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed in 2014 that teachers in Japan worked the longest hours among OECD countries, there is still no overtime work pay for public school teachers.

After this report in 2014 the JTU launched a Work Conditions Reform campaign urging the government to improve educators’ working conditions and reduce working hours immediately. The campaign resulted in relevant laws and regulations being amended in 2019 to cap overtime work hours by 45 hours per month (360 hours per year). As a short-term strategy, JTU now monitors the implementation of this new rule in schools, introducing the payment of overtime work hours to reduce workload and ensuring educators’ well-being as long-term strategies.

The union, however, noted that the government failed to implement long-term effective measures. Because it is expected that the National Diet – Japan’s legislative body – will discuss these issues in 2024, the JTU’s campaign entered its 2nd phase, “School Crisis! Ensuring children’s learning and educators’ decent living conditions and well-being.” This campaign focuses on raising awareness among media, parents, and citizens widely to gain public support.

“JTU Seven Urgent Recommendations”

At its national assembly in July, the education union also launched the “JTU Seven Urgent Recommendations”, namely to:

  1. Secure time for teachers to prepare for teaching, so that they can give lessons comprehensible to all children and create pleasant schools.
  2. Have small class sizes at all school types.
  3. Increase the number of teachers and education support personnel including school counsellors to respond to all children from a diverse range of backgrounds.
  4. Review and reduce the content of the national curriculum guidelines to secure quality school life for all children.
  5. Reduce workload including sufficient staffing to support young teachers and education support personnel.
  6. Under the responsibilities of the Ministry of Education, divide and prioritise work that teachers do at school so that they can focus on teaching as primary work.
  7. Abolish or fundamentally review the Law on Special Measures on Salaries of Education Staff of Public Compulsory Schools to protect teachers’ lives and health.

“We cannot wait any longer for a sustainable public school system, or to implement decent working conditions and salaries for teachers, as well as adequate financing for public education from the national government,” JTU President Tsukasa Takimoto underlined.

He appealed for the reduction of educators’ workload and the recruitment of new teachers and education support personnel to put a halt to current long working hours in the education sector.

“As the 1971 Act on Special Measures concerning Salaries and Other Conditions for Education Personnel of Public Compulsory Education Schools acknowledges the ‘special nature of teacher work” but allows a situation where long working hours are the norm and where there is no time for break periods, this legislation needs to be abolished or fundamentally reviewed,” he added.

Education International’s “Go Public! Fund Education” campaign

The JTU campaign and recommendations are very much in line with the demands of Education International’s “Go Public! Fund Education” campaign, an urgent call for governments to invest in public education, a fundamental human right and public good, and to invest more in teachers, the single most important factor in achieving quality education.

Since the launch of its recommendations, JTU has been carrying on advocacy activities on streets, gathering members’ experiences of dire situations at school, and publicizing op-eds in newspapers with affiliated unions at regional and national levels.

A JTU-branded car equipped with loudspeakers is also going through the streets of Tokyo, delivering union messages in Japanese, English, Korean, and Chinese.