Gaba Gaba Hey: Employment Relations at Gaba Corp. Nothing to Sing About

James McCrostie


Instructors teaching at Gaba Corporation continue to win battles in their fight to be recognized as employees, even as the conversation school does everything it can to prolong the war.

Gaba currently classifies its 850 instructors as itaku,orindependent contractors, rather than as employees. This means they fall outside the protection of Japanese labor standards law and allows Gaba to avoid paying benefits such as paid vacation or sick days. Plus, there’s no overtime pay and no limit on the number of unpaid overtime hours instructors can work.

Gaba also dodges the requirements (and costs) to enrol instructors in unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, national health insurance, and pension plans. Instructors, employed on six-month contracts, also lack job security. Gaba can dismiss any teacher, even without cause, simply by not renewing their contract. Moreover, the company can easily cut an instructor’s wages, which range from 1,500 to 2,200 yen a lesson, by demoting them to a lower pay scale.

Instructors first formed a union under the General Union umbrella in September 2007 but Gaba management declined to enter into meaningful contract talks, arguing that the instructors were not employees and therefore not covered by Japanese labor law.

In July 2008 the Osaka Labor Commission began hearing arguments into the union’s suit that claimed Gaba had refused to bargain with the union in good faith. On December 22, 2009 the Labor Commission ruled in favor of the company by recognizing some previously held talks as collective bargaining between the employer and union.

But, to the company’s horror, the Labor Commission went on to cite the details of class scheduling, training, and payment and indicated Gaba instructors had the right to organize as employees under labor law.

Despite having won the union’s suit, Gaba appealed the Osaka Labor Commission’s ruling to the Central Labor Commission in Tokyo.

The company maintained that because it doesn’t set working time or location and doesn’t give specific requirements for lesson content, its instructors were independent contractors and not employees.

The union argued that while the company allows teachers the flexibility to state their monthly availability, it controls the working time indirectly by setting lesson start and finish times. The company also sets the workplace, because all lessons must be taught at a Gaba learning center. The union also claimed Gaba controls lesson content by providing teacher training and having instructors ask their students at the start of each lesson if they want to use the Gaba textbook.

On October 6, 2010 the Central Labor Commission dismissed Gaba’s appeal because the company was appealing the wording contained in the ruling rather than the ruling itself.

Refusing to abandon hope in a final victory, Gaba is currently suing the Central Labor Commission at the Tokyo District Court for rejecting their appeal. On January 19, 2011 the first of what will probably be many court hearings was held.

Regardless of which way the Tokyo District Court rules, its decision will have an impact beyond the English teaching classroom. Japanese companies, eager to cut costs, have increasingly classified workers as independent contractors instead of employees. The government doesn’t keep official statistics but some estimates calculate the number of independent contractors at two million workers. The eventual outcome of Gaba’s struggle with its instructors may help shape the future employment landscape for many workers in Japan.

Further reading

McCrostie, J. (Oct. 19, 2010). Gaba teachers challenge ‘contractor’ status. The Japan Times. Retrieved from:<>