ESL Issues No. 8: Eikaiwa Grease-part ONE

bacon11Eikawa can be a greasy business. There are TONS of abuses, and there are many cases of employers really shafting their employees. There was no greater massive shaft-eroo than the epic, nay, intergalactic screwage that a major eikaiwa chain (rhymes with MOVA) did to their foreign teachers. They simply decided to stop paying their teachers and said, “Ok, so whatcha gonna do about THAT?” They also closed some shops, refused to refund student tuitions that were paid a year in advance, evicted teachers from company-owned apartments, and the owner just fled with a sack of money to God knows where.

The incredible thing in all of this is that there were many teachers who stuck with their fl20111220zga-870x396jobs. They did not walk away. They were COMPLETELY abandoned by their company but decided to keep coming in because they were in love with the job of teaching and deeply connected to the kids they taught. There were reports of some of them receiving meals in lieu of the salary they would have received from their corporate masters. That was very impressive, but living hand-to-mouth on a visa that ran out just like the cash they should have been paid was too much. Off they go to Narita airport. Goodbye former eikaiwa cog. Goodbye. Bye…. love you….

A quick online check will yield impressive results on that particular colossal debacle. But there are many debacles smaller in scale, and egregious, illegal, and border-line sociopathic behaviours we see with eikaiwa bosses all over the place.

While our lovely schools in englishbiz do not promise to be Xanadu, and I have myself been the subject of scurrilous charges of requiring our contracted full-time tenured teachers to work 8 hours a day (this is not France, sorry…), and expected people to show up on time for classes, and have had the audacity to demand quality lessons based on education earned through the soul-wrenching process of earning an actual university degree (sorry my American friend, your blindingly white toothy smile is not enough to teach kids), I truly feel that this industry is rife with some of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard from employers trying to manipulate, deceive, and abuse their teaching staff.

I shall share with you, dear reader, but a few of the things I have seen on this journey.

fl20140123a1aI have seen an eikaiwa school owner demand, in writing, that should an employee leave their school that they must, as soon as possible, leave the prefecture, never to return.

Can you imagine the litigation involved in that requirement in your own country? The same is true here, it is just that the foreign teacher has neither the language skill nor fiscal wherewithal to handle the matter properly.

I have seen an eikaiwa school hire teachers under the table while they were on a tourist visa. The plan was to move them to a real sponsored visa but when the Immigration people found out, the teacher was deported, and then ten-year black-listed from entering Japan again. The company said, “Whoops. Sorry”, but someone else’s dream of living and working in Japan was completely FUBARed.

I have seen several eikaiwa schools refuse to pay their teacher the last month of salary. They make some claim that there was administration costs, or something needed to be paid for and unexplained, or they just don’t want to pay the money. 45003The teacher tries for  a few weeks, but with no cash coming in, a plane ticket previously booked and unchangeable, the clock winds down, grinds them out, and the teacher just has to cut their losses and leave.

I have seen several eikaiwa owners require their staff to wear mascot uniforms, do marketing PR work in shopping centres or busy streets to pass out literature on national holidays. I have heard of eikawa owners using their teaching staff to do gardening work, administration work, and maintenance work far beyond just making sure the toilet was usable for students.

In short, I have seen a lot of illegal behaviour on the part of eikaiwa school owners towards their staff. There is bullying, cajoling, threats of eviction and prosecution, and smear campaigns. Much of which is highly illegal and actionable in a legal sense. The biggest issue is that the foreign teacher is oblivious to some of the insanity, and where they are aware, they are completely ill-equipped and under-financed to do anything about it. Most times they just get ground down and find themselves with their suitcases at Narita Airport in Tokyo waiting to go home.

Oh sure, there are calls to “unionize” and to stand together against these abuses. Some of the movements against some of these chains get a little traction with the court. But so often the complainants are not available to testify two years later when the case comes to trial, and much is muddied and confused by the time it gets there anyway. It is virtually impossible to do much about it. Sure, you can write some of your experiences on line, or on some forums, but it becomes just a chorus of voices with all-too-similar-accounts of the same abuses, and as such, gets ignored like the drone of seasonal insects before winter comes.

So, if you are new to teaching in Japan, be smart and be aware. Don’t run around “demanding your rights”. All that will do is draw a target on your back. But when you see some shady stuff going on, and when you are determined to not let your employer decide how long you will stay in Japan, make sure to look around, keep your eyes open for a lateral shift, perhaps to another position from which you could move ahead. Just like that frog in “Frogger”, the video game classic. Keep moving, and keep your eyes open. Don’t let yourself slip on the grease. This should actually be the very first thing you do when you arrive in Japan. Work hard, of course, but right away start getting out of your apartment and look around for what else may be available.

While it is true that there are a lot of sub-average places to work at as an English teacher in Japan, and a LOT of people who have had a hard ride here (just go to YouTube and type “Teach in Japan I quit” and you will see a TON of stuff), that does not necessarily mean it will happen to you. Just remember that one bad experience neither defines you, your experience in Japan, Japan as a country, Japanese society, or anything else for that matter. You gotta hang in there. You gotta keep swinging away until something good happens.

So, that is it for this “greasy” report. Stay tuned for the other side of the equation: Eikaiwa Teachers. Sometimes, there is enough grease to go around… It’ll be fun.

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THIS is NOT NOT NOT one of our classrooms. Just so that you know.
Categories: issues in esl, teaching in japan

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