After failing honesty test, NOVA tightens the screws on teachers

NOVA, Japan’s biggest chain of English language conversation schools is feeling the pinch, and it’s struggling to pay its biggest asset — foreign teachers, Weekly Playboy (10/15) says.

NOVA was supposed to pay its instructors on Sept. 15, but hundreds still hadn’t received their wages 10 days later and some may have still yet to get their due remuneration even now.

NOVA’s problems began in April when the Supreme Court ruled its repayment methods when students cancelled contracts were illegal and two months later the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry suspended some of its operations.

But now, the chain of schools is hurting — itself, its employees and its paying customers.

“NOVA has been flooded by requests to cancel contracts from students worried about its future and its shortage of capital,” Katsuji Yamahara, head of the multinational General Union to which many foreign NOVA instructors belong, tells Weekly Playboy. “Some schools have had to be shut down because they don’t have the money to run. I guess that’s also been behind the late payments to the foreign teachers.”

Many of the roughly 5,000 NOVA teachers are furious at the way they’ve been treated.

“Our payday is the 15th of every month. Sept. 15 was a Saturday, so they were supposed to pay us the day before. But the only people paid on the 14th were some instructors in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka. I didn’t get paid,” a NOVA instructor of seven years experience tells Weekly Playboy. “After that, they told us by e-mail that they’d definitely pay on the 19th. But there was nothing. Then they said the 21st, but nothing again. Then they came out and said they’d pay on the 25th after the long weekend, but it still didn’t come through. They just keep telling us all these lies.”

Another NOVA teacher adds the problem is not just unpaid wages. For many of its foreign instructors, NOVA borrows an apartment on their behalf, deducts the rent from their pay packet and pays the landlord directly.

“But NOVA has been deducting the rent from our pay and then not handing it over to the landlords,” the teacher tells the weekly. “Some landlords have been telling teachers to get out of their apartment by the start of October.”

Foreign teachers are the biggest asset an English conversation school can have in Japan. Many NOVA employees have already fled to other popular conversation school chains. But those who stay at NOVA are being drastically overwhelmed by student numbers and demand is enormous. Students, in turn, are complaining because they can’t get classes as easily as they had been told it would be. Further reductions in teacher numbers are likely to hurt the chain even more.

Weekly Playboy says it repeatedly contacted NOVA for a comment about the situation but was constantly told that a reply would be forthcoming “tomorrow.” Each time tomorrow became today, the response was identical. Phone calls to the company always got a busy tone. After 5 p.m., the engaged signal was replaced by a recorded message.

Union boss Yamahara is hardly bullish about NOVA’s future.

“They’ll close more schools because they can’t pay the rent. Teachers will quit because they haven’t been paid. It’s in a truly downward spiral,” he says. “NOVA has always sold itself on being cheap and convenient. To be honest, though, I don’t think there are really many options open for NOVA from now on.”

While the foreign teachers are languishing, NOVA’s president Nozomu Sahashi is sitting back on a personal fortune estimated to be several hundred million yen, a fund the weekly suggests he should consider tapping into to pay his teachers’ wages. The teachers certainly like the idea.

“I’ve got workmates who can’t pay their transport costs. They can’t come to work because they haven’t got the money for their train fare. Other teachers have to eat cup noodles three times a day because they haven’t got the money for any other food,” a foreign NOVA teacher tells Weekly Playboy. “F**k you, Sahashi. Hurry up and pay!” (By Ryann Connell)