School row traps Aussies

AROUND 2500 Australians working in Japan as English teachers could be left stranded if school operator Nova Corp goes under.

Union spokesman Katsuji Yamahara warned yesterday that in a worst-case scenario, the Australians would have to try for scarce new jobs or go home in despair. Already they are working without pay.

Mr Yamahara ? who is chairman of the General Union which represents Nova workers ? says the company has delayed paying salaries for 5000 Japanese workers and foreign teachers.

“The school has failed to pay Japanese workers’ salaries since July this year and foreign teachers working in Tokyo and Osaka regions since September,” he said.

The union has asked officials in Osaka to urge public prosecutors to build a criminal case against Nova Corp and its president Nozomu Sahashi in connection with the Labour Standard Law.

Nova is Japan’s largest language educator with 900 schools.

Its financial situation has greatly been damaged after the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry ordered the company in June to suspend part of its operations for six months for violating industry laws.

The ministry blamed Nova for using fraudulent advertisements when soliciting students.

Officials also accused the company of lying about refunds of paid tuition in cases where such refunds had not been properly carried out.

The ministry told Nova not to sign long-term contracts.

Since then, the schools group has suffered a major decline in the number of new students.

The Australia Asia Centre for Education Exchange has already announced that it would stop placing teachers with Nova as of October 1.

According to a Nova spokesman, the operator was running 925 schools nationwide as of March this year.

The number of foreign teachers stood at 5054 then. But industry sources say the number of foreign instructors has fallen to 4500 including 2500 Australians.

By comparison, the number of Australians teaching in Japan under the government-run JET Programme stood at 316 in fiscal 2007.

Tristan Sime, a 37-year-old Australian who taught at Nova schools for seven years, said: “Brand-new Australians who recently came to Japan and have no Japanese language skills or other resources to find a new job had better go home if they are fired or the school goes bankrupt.”

He said it would be difficult for other language schools to hire new foreign teachers because the Nova problem had damaged the image of English language education.

Mr Sime criticised some of Nova’s rules as restrictive.

“No social contact with students has been allowed for Nova foreign teachers, even for coffee,” he said.

He said some of his friends teaching at Nova were fired after they attended parties for students and teachers held outside school hours.

http://www.news.com.au/couriermail/story/0,23739,22602956-953,00.html

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