Monday, October 22, 2007

The End?

Things are really not looking good for the company. This past Friday came and went and we still haven't been paid.

To re-cap briefly, here is our story so far.

1) This spring: The company gets slammed in court for its business practices. They are temporarily banned from signing new students and ordered to refund money to any students wishing for a refund.

2). This summer: The first indications of financial instability begin to appear. The company is not able to pay it's Japanese staff on time.

3). Last month: Things begin to get serious. They aren't able to pay their foreign staff on time. We got our pay almost one week late.

4). This month: The company informs us in advance that they won't be able to pay us on time on the 15th. We are told to wait till the 19th to get our pay. Across the country hundreds of people (probably smarter than me) decide to cut their losses and just quit early.

5). Last Friday the 19th: Our pay is still not available.

If you read the web forums (and all of us at this company have become addicted to them the last couple months) sites like and have been saying for weeks: "The hand writings on the wall. If you're still coming into work and expecting to get paid for it, you're an idiot. And if you don't get paid on the 19th and you still come into work, then you're really an idiot."

For better or for worse, I went into work on Friday afternoon. Although I was contemplating on the train ride over how hopeless the situation is. Our teaching schedule is busy every day, but these are all students who are using up lesson points they bought two or three years ago. There's no new money coming in. If they don't have my money by now, what makes me think they'll have it later. Rumors circulate of a buy out, but this situation has been ongoing for a couple months. If there was a serious buy out possibility, wouldn't I have heard of it by now?

Actually on Fridays I don't go to work in my home branch in Nakatsu, but for the past couple months or so have been doing help shifts in the nearby town of Yukuhashi. So I wasn't able to immediately compare notes with my usual co-workers, but I can attest that the branch in Yukuhashi had a feeling of finality to it. A teacher from New Zealand flat out told me he wouldn't be back to work again after today. The Japanese staff all wondered if we'd still have jobs by Monday. And the snack and refreshment box, which in the past had been so zealously guarded by the Japanese staff because it was for students only, was open on the ground and everyone was helping themselves.

I got a call from a friend in Fukuoka. "How's everyone at Nakatsu taking the news?" he asked.

"I don't know," I said. "I'm not in Nakatsu today. I'll tell you tomorrow. But we've got a good group over there. I suspect everyone's taking it maturely and not making any extra trouble for the Japanese staff. How's things in Fukuoka?"

"Lots of people are on strike over here."

I repeated to him what I wrote in this blog earlier (and what I've been saying several times the past few days whenever the subject of strikes come up), "I don't see the point. To me, a strike is something you do when management has something they're not giving you and you want to twist their arm a little to encourage them. If the company's going bankrupt, I wouldn't call that striking. I'd just call that quiting early."

The Japanese staff in the room overheard my phone conversation. They didn't understand all of the English, but they heard the magic word "strike", which apparently still has the power to provoke panic even in the casual "illegal refreshments and coffee" atmosphere of the office that afternoon. Someone must have made a phone call, because shortly afterwards I got a call from my own office manager in Nakatsu. After a bit of small talk, she broached the subject.

"So, I heard you and Jon are planning a strike tomorrow."

"No, no. Some people are striking in Fukuoka. We were just mentioning it."

"You're coming in tomorrow?"

"Um, yeah I think I'm coming in."


"Yeah, I'm coming, I'm coming."

"Please. I'll make sure you have an easy schedule tomorrow. Just come in."

We're all doubtful about whether we're going to get paid for the work we're doing these days, but I figured since I had seen this coming from a couple months away, it would be unfair to suddenly get indignant about it now. If I ever did decide it was no longer worth my while to come in, I should at least give my fellow teachers and staff a couple days notice so they weren't scrambling to cover my lessons at the last minute. I even sent a message to that effect to some of my co-workers in the hopes that my example would inspire them to a similar level of professionalism.

....then guess who overslept that next morning?

I don't know how it happened but it happened. For some reason the alarm didn't go off, and I'll sleep till noon without that alarm. This is the a bit of a chronic problem with me. With the exception of when I was working evenings or 3rd shift, I've never had a job where I didn't oversleep at least once. (For other examples of me oversleeping, see here, here and here).

But up until now, I had had a perfect record with this particular job. Then, I got a call Saturday morning at 10 0'clock from the staff saying the student was waiting for me, and was I coming into work? I used every swear word I knew and threw my worthless alarm clock across the room, but of course at that point there's nothing really you can do. I apologized, said I would be there in 25 minutes, and started getting dressed.

Having witnessed what happens when my co-workers have been late for work, and having seen the stress it puts the staff through to re-arrange lessons with the students, I felt terrible for having done it. Then I arrived at work and I had to convince everyone that I hadn't been striking, I just legitimately had overslept that day. (I later bought a box of donuts for everyone in the office to apologize.)

By Sunday the plot had thickened a bit. A co-worked of mine was informed by the students that the Japanese staff is not scheduling any lessons after the end of November. A sign no doubt, that they don't expect the company to last that long, but it would have been nice to be kept in the loop. The Japanese staff knew, the students knew, but the foreign teachers were deliberately kept in the dark.

(The foreign teacher as the last one to be told something is a common thread in Japan, and not just at my current job. I remember once back in my JET days racing all the way back from Oita city to teach my evening class, only to find when I got there the class had been cancelled because a funeral was being held in the gym. Someone had told all the students that the class had been cancelled, but no one had bothered to tell me).

Anyway, I'm told that there are a number of high level meetings the next couple of days which will decide the future of this company. We'll see if I still have a job by the end of the week.

(My co-worker Amy has written about this latest crisis on her blog as well).

Link of the Day
Tom from Guam: Big News--Some People are Gay


Anonymous said...

"...and then guess who overslept"

i love it. it could only happen to you. and probably me. and rob for that matter. but still, that is just perfect. amen. it got a good laugh outloud laugh out of me. --brett

inertbat said...

I bet you startled them pretty good when you didn't show up lol.

I feel bad for the staff and students where teachers are abandoning ship without regard to how it affects everyone else. They're experiencing tough decisions as well and are just waiting to see how things turn out too. A major company like NOVA won't suddenly go belly under and disappear, but it may take a while for the guys uptop to figure how to work things out. If it were me I'd be doing the same as you, going in to work and waiting to see what happens.