Embassies in Japan help unpaid teachers caught in foreign language school debt crisis

The Australian and British Embassies in Japan have begun providing assistance to their citizens working for Nova, Japan’s largest chain of private foreign language schools, after it filed for court protection from creditors.

The two embassies have set up sections on their Web sites to provide some support for teachers who reportedly have not been paid since September. Both said there were limits to how much assistance they could provide, because it was a private employment issue in Japan.

The Australian Embassy said the country’s Qantas airline will offer reduced airfare rate for a limited time to Australian Nova employees who want to return home.

The embassy will also provide a list of English-speaking lawyers for those seeking legal help, it said.

The British Embassy said it could help British employees of Nova contact family and friends in Britain if they were left with no funds, the embassy’s Web site said.

Osaka-based Nova Corp. has debts estimated at 43.9 billion yen (US$385 million; ?269 million) and employs about 4,500 foreign instructors, according to Japanese media.

Nova Corp. filed the protection request with the Osaka District Court on Friday under Japan’s Corporate Rehabilitation Law, according to court officials.

Nova officials were not immediately available for comment Saturday.

Nova’s current plight began after consumers filed complaints claiming the company’s advertisements about its services were misleading. In June the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry ordered Nova to suspend part of its business operations.

The company ? which promised in its advertisements a “study abroad experience at your local train station” ? has been forced to shut down some of its schools due to a sharp decline in student enrollment.