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|In 1993, the former Kumamoto Women's University recruited a number
of foreign teachers for the new, coeducational, Prefectural University
of Kumamoto. All accepted appointments as 'full-time' teachers (sennin
kyôin), signing Acceptance of Appointment (shûnin shoudakushô)
documents issued by the Governor of Kumamoto Prefecture. However, when
the new university opened in 1994, none of the foreign teachers were offered
contracts which were in accord with the documents they had signed. Four
were offered not full-time contracts, but 'special, irregular, part-time'
contracts with a one-year term. The remaining five foreign teachers were
offered appointments as 'regular public servants' - but with three-year
term limits. The term limits and the 'irregular' contracts were offered
only to the foreign teachers; all of the Japanese full-time teachers were
appointed as 'regular public servants' - without any term limits.
The four teachers who were being denied 'regular' status asked for the 'full-time' contracts they had agreed to in the Acceptance of Appointment documents and they refused to sign the 'irregular' contracts that the university offered. They persisted in their refusal over the next four years. Together with most of their 'three-year' foreign colleagues, they continued to ask for the removal of the term limits which applied only to foreign teachers. During this period, four more full-time foreign teachers were employed, but, like their predecessors, they were offered 'irregular' contracts with one year limits.
In 1997, faced with increasingly onerous contract renewal processes, and upon legal advice, the foreign teachers formed the Kumamoto General Union, affiliated to the National Union of General Workers, National Council. The union asked the university to employ all the full-time teachers in the same way regardless of nationality. Formal negotiations began in October 1997. During the five negotiation sessions, the university rejected all claims, saying that their employment practices were 'appropriate' for teachers who were native speakers of English. In January 1998, even though negotiations were underway, the university unilaterally imposed punitive contracts on the one-year teachers. In February 1998, the President refused to discuss the new contracts and abandoned negotiations.
After repeated requests for an acknowledgement of the letter sent concerning the contracts and a discussion of the discrimination and employment issues, the President sent a terse reply acknowledging only the receipt of the letter. In pursuit of their claims and having no other option, teachers belonging to the union held a one-day strike and Human Rights Rally on June 24, 1998, calling for an end to discrimination based on nationality.
In June 1998, to the surprise of many teachers, the university launched a university-wide review of foreign language education. The Adminstrative Studies faculty had reviewed and updated its curriculum, including required English courses, less than a year ago. Nevertheless, a new plan which would halve the number of English classes taught in the Administrative Studies faculty (the faculty to which the majority of the foreign teachers are attached) was approved on 3 September. While the process is incomplete, it has been reported that 6 of the teachers will lose their jobs as a result of the changes in the curriculum.