New Deal for ALTs

General Union will launch the 'New Deal for ALTs' campaign on Monday, June 27th at 19:30 (JST) via Zoom.

Complete the survey at {} and read more at {}

Speakers include: Takatsuki City councilors; union officials from across Japan; and union members including ALTs. Presentations include: Japanese Boards of Education survey results; campaign goals and objectives; and the launch of the National ALT Working Conditions Survey.

What is motivating the 'New Deal for ALTs' campaign now?

Assistant Language Teachers have been in Japan since the 1970s. What began as a handful of participants on government exchange programs has become a system that employs almost 20,000 teachers  in positions from kindergartens through senior high schools. These teachers serve under a dizzying variety of job titles, contract types, employers, and working conditions all over Japan. 

Private companies compete to win the lowest bid. This drives down salaries and standards. ALTs are left with low pay and, often, no insurance. Changes in labor law have disadvantaged directly-hired ALTs forcing them into unstable yearly contracts that must be re-interviewed for each year. JET Programme participants are forced out when their arbitrary contract limits expire, despite the fact that labor law changes forbid contract renewal limits. 

Lack of oversight and standardization has turned the ALT field into an unorganized race to the bottom as salaries remain stagnant and positions become increasingly unstable. Paradoxically, this has occurred at the same time as rising standards in curriculum, leading to the increased workload and importance of language teachers. 

ALTs deserve decent work and the Japanese teachers and students deserve decent ALTs who deliver quality education.

What does a decent ALT job look like? 

At the very least, a decent job is not in conflict with labor law and provides the mandated paid leave, employment insurance, and health insurance owed to all who work in Japan. For years, employers have fought and dodged these obligations to the detriment of ALTs and the Japanese taxpayer. Employers have used tactics such as mislabeling employees as contractors or even breaking up companies to avoid regulations regarding health and pension insurance. 

ALTs should have the right to use their paid leave as they need. Many employers abuse the ability to schedule half of paid leave at the employers' discretion. Most ALTs are in contracts without sick leave of any sort. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced teachers to make the choice between using their few precious days of paid leave or using unpaid leave. No one working with the public should be forced into that position.

A decent job has stability. Many ALT positions are year-to-year creations and treated as disposable. Dispatch companies bid for positions using the same system that provides school boards with desks and chairs. ALTs are shuffled from place to place to avoid the chance to take permanent positions; or are forced to reapply for their own job year after year. ALTs need to know if they'll have a job next year. Many employers, including the largest private employer, only notify ALTs weeks or even days before the end of a contract - despite demanding a month's notice from the employee. This is especially egregious given the rigid hiring season of Japan.

A decent job provides opportunities for growth. Many ALT positions do not have a defined pay scale or the opportunities for professional development that are standard in the education field. ALTs continue to become more experienced and valuable to their coworkers and students, but this is not reflected in their compensation. There is a massive gap between the wages of ALTs hired directly by boards of education, and privately-hired ALTs employed by dispatch companies: despite there being no functional difference in the duties and responsibilities of the two. In particular, the bidding system of private dispatch positions has led to salaries that even single ALTs find impossible to live under, much less those supporting a family.

A decent teaching job follows the standards of other teaching jobs. Despite being asked to perform similar roles in the classroom to other teachers, ALTs are denied many of the benefits and opportunities extended to other teachers. Teachers need access to professional development in order to continue to improve and share their craft with other teachers. While some employers have supplied training and professional development of varying quality, others expect ALTs to learn everything on the job. Exceptional ALTs often find that there is no path for promotion or increases in compensation regardless of qualifications or experience. Although there are MEXT-approved paths to special and permanent licensure, these are not well understood or promoted by ALTs or boards of education.

A decent job has clear goals and expectations. MEXT has been unclear as to what exactly an ALT is, much less their role in the education system. The central government and boards of education must make clear what exactly it is that they want from the ALTs in their classrooms.

A decent ALT job would follow labor laws, have stability, provide opportunities for growth, set clear goals and expectations, and provide benefits similar to other teaching positions. In past years, some of these problems were forgivable as oversights. Foreign language standards were much lower and less was expected of ALTs. But the ALT has become a ubiquitous feature of the Japanese classroom across the nation.

The time of the gap-year ALT has long ended. Increasing demands on the students and teachers don't allow it. The nearly 20,000 ALTs deserve decent jobs for the work they do. The teachers and students of Japan deserve decent ALTs. By setting a minimum standard of what a decent ALT job looks like, we can make this ad-hoc system with all its growing pains work better for everyone.

Read more information and download a leaflet at {}. To make personal contact, email {} or call {06-6352-9619}. Alternatively, contact this author and member of the New Deal for ALTs Committee, Keith Gerrard, at {}.
  1. Bonjure289 June 15, 2022

    I have experienced a lot of these struggles as an ALT. I do enjoy the work overall, but there are a lot of downsides, as expressed in this article. I teach at an elementary school, and I am simply expected to know how to do everything, and I have had little to no training. I am the main teacher for the majority of the classes, and my pay does not reflect that at all. I am interested in this, and will check it out, and probably sign up, thank you.

  2. emilia July 5, 2022

    Couldn't agree more

  3. Keith Miyazaki January 13, 2023

    UPDATE This campaign is still running! Please provide a response to the survey. We have a few hundred so far.

  4. missmystic74 January 19, 2023

    I agree to everything here. I have been working here in Japan for more than 20 years, but my pay is lower now than when I first got here and my working hours are also longer. I am thankful that I got a direct hire position in my local area when Covid-19 broke out. So I do feel lucky at this time but I know too well the issues mentioned here.

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