Students deceived in overseas jobs

Despite possible closure of 300 schools, company that recruits Canadian teachers from universities still hiring

by David Jobson

Nova Group of Japan, the largest private language school in Japan, has encountered serious financial and legal problems. But that hasn?t stopped the company from hiring Canadian students to teach in Japan.

Nova ? the largest employer of migrant workers in Japan, with more than 5,000 overseas teachers at over 900 schools ? has faced a series of government actions and court decisions against its operations over the past two years. The result has been employees going unpaid and the possibility of 300 schools closing by October 2007. Nova employs 668 Canadians, according to Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Bernard Nguyen.

?We already have teachers who were not paid, and the summer bonus for staff was not paid. Half the teachers were paid four days late,? said deputy secretary general Louis Carlet of the National Union of General Workers Tokyo South which represents hundreds of unionized Nova teachers. ?And Nova has apparently issued an order not to pay teachers who quit.?

The corporation was first hit by scandal in 2005 when the Social Insurance Agency of Japan launched a government probe against Nova for selling teachers private accident insurance in lieu of enrolling employees into the Japanese government?s mandatory National Health Insurance Program.

Then in April 2007, the Supreme Court of Japan ruled that Nova?s student tuition refund policy was invalid and in violation of commercial transaction laws. This led to Japan?s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry imposing a temporary six-month ban in June 2007 against Nova from signing up any long-term students. Days later, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare cancelled its government contracts with Nova which had earned the corporation over $16 million since 1999.

However, even before the government penalties were imposed, Nova had reported a $25-million loss in operating profits for fiscal 2006 and that student enrolment would be 19.2 per cent less in September 2007 than in September 2006.

With the ship sinking, Nova stopped paying the rent on some teachers? housing.

?Many landlords are beginning court proceedings against Nova,? said Carlet. ?We?ve had Nova employees say that they?ve received apartment eviction notices for apartments that Nova is supposed to be paying rent on.?

However, Nova was still advertising recruitment sessions in Canada on the Workopolis website as recently as Aug. 28.

Despite the health insurance scandal of 2005, many Canadian universities continued to allow Nova to recruit on campus, including UVic. UVic Career Services confirmed that Nova had been recruiting last year and said it?s the student?s responsibility to know whether the companies on their website are on the rocks or obeying the law.

?We just don?t have the resources or ability to do pre-screening ahead of time for any employers,? said Career Services manager Jennifer Margison. ?As long as the conditions of the employment, as the information is provided to us, seems reasonable ? then basically we will post it.?

She said Career Services are unaware of employment standards oversees.

?If it?s overseas, those [laws] are all different, and we really don?t know what the standards are in those locations,? she said.

Margison also said that Career Services reacts to student complaints but does not monitor employers. She suggested that students check the National Union of General Workers website or the General Union?s website for information on Nova Group.

Career Services is a member of the Canadaian Association of Career Educators and Employers (CACEE) and abides by that organization?s ethics policies. Anne Markey, CACEE executive director, said the policy has ?not had to do with companies going bankrupt previously, [but that could change].?

However, the policy of university career centres is a concern to one overseas recruiter in B.C.

?When we first started seven years ago, many of the career centres were happy with any overseas opportunity. Now, career centres are taking more of a responsible approach to what they are presenting their students,? said Jeff Strachan of Footprints Recruiting. ?Recruiters who don?t have licences should be shut down because there are certain standards in B.C. that employment agencies must be compliant with.?

But Margison said that would prevent international recruiting. ?I don?t think any of the international employers would be registered [employment agents],? she said.

Another challenge to those considering work overseas is that the B.C. Employment Standards Act does not protect interviewees from dishonest overseas recruiters. There is no legislation that would allow a person to take legal action against Nova if they lied about work conditions or the financial situation of the company.

Pat Cullinane, director of employment standards with the B.C. Ministry of Labour, explained, ?If you have someone recruiting for out-of-province work, [misrepresenting the terms of employment] is not likely to be governed by the Employment Standards Act.?

?I think it is terrible teachers will spend thousands of dollars coming over to Japan, and then work for a month and not get paid,? said Carlet. ?Nova will either officially go bankrupt or just kind of let things fall apart and not officially declare bankruptcy ? which would be even worse for teachers.?

Nova Group Canada Branch Manager, Colette Neville, refused to comment.