On Monday, December 14th, seven members of the 2020-2021 AJET National Council held an online meeting with representatives from MIC, MOFA, MEXT, and CLAIR to discuss and exchange opinions on the JET Programme, the AJET report on power harassment and support systems, the impact of COVID-19, and more.
The meeting commenced at 9:30 AM, and began with opening remarks from the Director of the Department of JET Programme Management at CLAIR. He highlighted ways that CLAIR is seeking to improve training materials for JETs and adapt these materials to be conducted online during the pandemic and in the future.
The AJET winter preliminary report, “Power Harassment and Support Systems on the JET Programme,” was presented by Jessica Craven, Project Manager for AJET, to CLAIR and the three Ministries. The report highlighted problems that some JET program participants have been experiencing, such as uncompensated overtime, xenophobia/racism, mental health, and sexual harassment. The report noted that COVID-19 has worsened some of these previously-existing issues, and has made guaranteed access to sick leave for both ALTs and CIRs a necessity. Both Ministry members and CLAIR insured that they are working to understand the precise impact that COVID-19 has had on participants of the JET Programme, and are carefully considering what they can do to address some of these issues.
Prima Shariff, the Social Media Director for AJET, also presented on behalf of JETs of African Descent. Particularly, her presentation addressed the police brutality that is affecting Black people across the globe and has constantly made the international news throughout the year. In light of stereotypical and insensitive depictions of Black people that continue in Japan, such as NHK’s controversial video “Kore de Wakatta! Sekai no Ima,” JETs of African Descent asked for CLAIR and the Ministries to issue a statement to publicly define the JET Programme’s stance on racism, and take other measures to support Black participants of the JET Programme. While CLAIR responded that it is difficult to make a single statement that addresses everyone’s background and related issues in a way that is satisfactory to everyone, they did empathize and said they will seriously consider what they can do to help Black people feel more welcome and safe in Japan. They noted that specific support measures could include organizing sessions regarding racial discrimination at various events.
MIC presented the next segment about their project for the revitalization of communities across Japan, and ways the international community can support these efforts.
In the third segment, CLAIR presented about how they are working with the British Council to create more online training materials for JETs. In response to previous surveys in which JET participants expressed that they felt underprepared to teach in Japan, more extensive training will be available through this e-learning initiative that has about 72 additional hours of content. It includes three modules: teaching in Japan, English vocabulary, and speaking. New JETs will have one year to finish this and can access it anytime within the year.
In the following session, further inquiries were made by AJET to CLAIR, particularly about topics related to COVID-19. CLAIR representatives clarified that while both 6th year extensions and changes to the intent to reappoint after the normal deadline were permitted this year, this was a special case due to COVID-19 and the travel restrictions placed on incoming JETs. CLAIR does not anticipate this happening again unless a similar exceptional situation occurs. We also asked questions about expanding sick leave or special emergency leave clauses in the JET contract. CLAIR responded the emergency leave is only granted in the cases of transportation failure or damage to homes because in these cases it can clearly be proven that the JET participant is unable to come to work. They believe this is sufficient.
AJET CIR representative Brendan Murphy posed questions to CLAIR about the tremendous amount of overtime work that many CIRs have faced during the pandemic, and about if access to overtime pay is possible. Currently CIRs are granted daikyuu in exchange for overtime work, but many are too busy to actually take it. CLAIR responded that although JET participants became fiscal year employees in April, the three Ministries and CLAIR decided that overtime pay still would not be allowed for JETs. One of the representatives responded that, in his personal opinion, uncompensated overtime work is an institutional problem in Japan, but they are not really in a position to force contracting organizations to fix these issues. He said it’s a difficult problem to solve, but they are always thinking about how to deal with it. In addressing that much of the overtime work is related to PA duties, CLAIR representatives responded that they hold PA training sessions twice a year to try to make it more manageable, and that they are continuously trying to improve this training system.
Overall, while the pandemic has certainly caused many challenges this year, many steps are being taken by AJET and CLAIR to gather specific information on the impact COVID-19 has had on JET Program participants. Various surveys related to this issue will be conducted by AJET in the near future. We use these responses in part to decide what issues need to be presented to CLAIR so that they can begin to brainstorm solutions. We appreciate all of the JET Program participants’ hard work and perseverance during this difficult time, and we hope we can help improve various issues for the coming year and beyond.
The Opinion Exchange concluded around 3 p.m.