Foreign language instructors ‘will teach for food’ in Japan

Foreign language teachers who suddenly lost their jobs when Japan’s largest language school operator closed have been forced to rely on food handouts from their former students in exchange for private lessons, teachers and union officials said Thursday. Impromptu lessons are being offered in parks and restaurants because teachers can’t afford classrooms, or even apartments, they said.

“We know teachers who don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” the president of the Nova Union of Staff and Teachers, Robert Tench, said at a press conference Thursday. “They are in desperate need.”

Some 4,500 foreign language teachers from all around the world lost their jobs with Japan’s largest language school operator, Nova Corp, on October 19.

In response to the sudden end to their livelihoods, the Nova Union of Staff and Teachers launched a “lessons for food” programme for the teachers who are on the verge of becoming homeless.

Natasha Steele, from Sydney, Australia, was fed by her student and came home with a bag full of pastries, enough to feed her for two weeks.

The 26-year-old teacher, who was recruited in Australia and arrived in Japan only 10 months ago, was recently evicted from company accommodation along with her two roommates.

One teacher from Canada lost her job and apartment nine days into her new life in Japan, while a Scottish teacher had to have her parents pay for a flight back home after only a month into her job.

The union also plans to launch a Nova relief fund where people can donate money to help the teachers thrown out of jobs and to request assistance from various embassies, including those of Australia, Britain, Canada, the United States and France.

Australia’s Qantas and British Airways have offered Nova teachers discounted return flights home. Many teachers have not been paid for two months and they cannot afford airline tickets, Tench said.

Last Friday their employer filed for bankruptcy. The scandal-tainted company was granted court protection under the Corporate Rehabilitation Law.

All schools in its network abruptly suspended operations a week ago, dumping thousands of teachers into Japan’s foreign language market.

Nova accumulated debts of about 43.9 billion yen (381.89 million dollars) when students cancelled lessons after the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry ordered the company to suspend some of its classes in June.

The ministry’s order came after it determined that the company had falsely advertised its services.

The scandal caused a rapid plunge in student enrollment. At its peak in 2005, Nova had 480,000 students learning English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Chinese at branches nationwide.

Some 420,000 students, as well as instructors, were only informed about the temporary suspension of the schools through the media or notices posted in classrooms.

The company had already been in labour disputes with its employees for several years.

As the industry leader, Nova had a profound influence in the industry, driving down prices for lessons, standards of services and employment conditions, according to said Louis Carlet of the National Union of General Workers Tokyo Nambu, which represents Nova union.

Nova has said it aims to find a supporter for its rehabilitation within a month, but four Japanese firms have already showed reluctance to join with the troubled company, according to the Kyodo News Agency.

Meanwhile, Nova’s embattled president, Nozomu Sahashi, 56, has gone into hiding.

“Not paying wages is a crime under the Labour Law,” said Tench, who had been a teacher at Nova for 13 years.