NZ teacher $8000 out of pocket after collapse of language school

A New Zealander in Japan was forced to dip into his savings and move house after a “tightening up on photocopy paper and lightbulbs” tipped him off that the country’s largest chain of English language schools was in financial trouble.

Cole Cameron, who moved to Japan 18 months ago to work for Nova, said he had to find a new job and was $8000 out of pocket following the collapse of his former employer.

The 23-year-old, originally from Havelock North, is one of about 200 New Zealanders affected by last week’s collapse, with many left stranded and owed money.

Mr Cameron told the Herald from Saitama Prefecture that he had managed thanks to “conservative financial management”, savings and backing from his parents in New Zealand should he need it.

He said the situation at Nova had been noticeably deteriorating for the past five months, since he first noticed tighter measures on stationery.

Employees who had accommodation arranged through Nova started experiencing problems shortly afterwards.

“Rental fees weren’t being paid even though they were deducted from the salaries. Our salary paper said we’d paid the rent but it hadn’t been passed on to the landlord.”

Mr Cameron was in Nova accommodation, but saw a risk and moved into his own accommodation. He said different levels of staff were affected at different times.

“The bulk of the regular instructors were the last to have their contracts breached,” he said.

“It started off with the Japanese staff having their contracts breached in August by failure of payment, then the management, which included foreigners and Japanese, had their contracts breached in September where their salary was two weeks late.

“And then everybody had their contracts breached in October with failure of payment and we haven’t been paid yet.”

But despite being owed $8000, Mr Cameron said he would not let it ruin his stay.

“My personal view is you can’t sit around and cry over spilt milk. You’ve just got to get on with it, and I’ve been fortunate in the sense I took that attitude a long time ago and went and got another job.

“Some people only got that attitude over the weekend and have found there’s nothing there. It’s a difficult situation all round.”

He started a new job teaching English this week, but it’s been tough financially.

“There’s obviously still that gap of two months’ salary [plus owed leave]. I’m getting through, but essentially I need that two months’ salary.”

Mr Cameron, whose last day at Nova was October 25, said it was possible he would get some of his money back because Nova salaries were government insured, but he wasn’t holding his breath.

“This situation highlights the importance of careful planning and risk management for anybody travelling overseas.”

He said one of the most annoying things was the lack of information about what was going on.

“A lot of the Western folk jumped ship the day after we weren’t paid and some of them have just left the country and the company is none the wiser.”

The New Zealand Embassy in Tokyo said it received a steady stream of calls from New Zealanders caught up in the situation, and was offering advice, but not financial assistance.

Last Friday, Nova dismissed co-founder Nozomu Sahashi and filed for protection from creditors with the Osaka District Court. Its debts are estimated to be 43.9 billion yen ($500 million)

The company was founded in 1981 and relentlessly expanded, working towards its goal of 1000 schools nationwide.

Nova had 300,000 students at about 670 schools. It employed about 7000 staff, around 4900 of whom were foreigners.