This Week in Osaka: May 8th to May 15th 2020

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Each week, here at Osaka.com, we will bring you a selection of some of the top stories about Osaka making the local and national news here in Japan. Sometimes it’s serious, sometimes it’s funny, but it’s always direct to you, from Osaka.

Here’s a look at some of the stories hitting the headlines in Osaka this week

Osaka Based Union Claims Victory in Dispute with NOVA Over Teacher Safety

Japan isn’t exactly noted for the strength and persuasive powers of it’s union movement. However, General Union members in Osaka scored a major victory this week when English language school chain NOVA was forced into an embarrassing climb down over teacher safety amid the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak.

After denying claims of recklessly endangering teachers by refusing to respect the requested stay at home order during the ongoing State of Emergency, NOVA last week doubled down on their ignorance, accusing the union of inciting trouble and going to great pains to emphasize that union teachers were “a minority” and “even if they did strike, it would have only a minimal impact on our daily operations”

And yet, here we are, less than a week later and NOVA have submitted to all the union’s demands.

Teachers will now be able to give online lessons, not from cramped, poorly ventilated central hubs, but from their local schools. Also teachers who have taken time off thus far to minimize their risk will not be financially penalized for doing so. Any employees who have suffered any loss of incentive payments for taking time off during the state of emergency will have these reimbursed in full. Any teachers deemed to be high risk, or who simply do not want to risk contracting Covid-19 during the current state of emergency will be permitted to stay at home, on 60% of pay with no loss of bonuses or other incentives for doing so. Also, in perhaps the most significant sign of a breakthrough in future negotiations, NOVA have also pledged to set up and maintain a hotline between local managers and union officials to resolve any future disputes between teachers and management.

The settlement also recognizes that NOVA will, from now on, abide by the law in terms of recognizing the right of their contracted workers to become full employees in the future.

Osaka Remains in a State of Emergency as Restrictions Loosened Elsewhere

As was widely predicted in the local press earlier this week, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe confirmed on Thursday of this week that the national state of emergency will be relaxed across 39 of Japan’s prefectures, but will remain in place in Osaka, Tokyo, Hokkaido and 5 other prefectures deemed to still be at high risk of further infections.

Abe laid the groundwork however for another possible state of emergency declaration in the future. In his press conference on Thursday afternoon, Abe said: “The reality is that until a vaccine or an effective treatment for the New Coronavirus becomes available, our battle against this virus will continue.

“We will publish guidelines for how a future state of emergency may be declared again, in the event of a sudden rise in new infections.

“My first priority is and always shall be the health and safety of all who live in Japan.”

Considering the spike in new infections that has been observed across Europe and the US in areas that have relaxed restrictions, many remain skeptical that it is indeed the right time to relax restrictions, and fear that a sudden, second wave of infections could be on the horizon.

Abe did however give some hope to those seeking a long term route out of the current pandemic, with the announcement that a number of promising vaccine candidates will enter clinical trials in July.

And Finally…

As one of my friends in Osaka recently told me: Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it’s definitely more fun to cry in a Rolls Royce than it is on a bicycle!

Luckily for her, the Japanese government seems to share her view.

From Tuesday of this week, citizens and foreign residents in Osaka began to receive their application forms for the 100,000 yen universal hardship payment from the central government.

In a further move to help workers currently facing reduced or total loss of income in Osaka and elsewhere in Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also pledged to begin discussions in parliament next week to increase the daily subsidy paid to workers currently unable to work because of the pandemic to 15,000 yen per day.

Cynics may wonder if this measure, aimed at reducing the burden on the unemployed, is any way connected to the speculation in some quarters that the PM himself may be out of a job soon!

That’s all for now, but be sure to check back again next week for another round of This Week in Osaka!

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