Teachers unpaid as company falters

HUNDREDS of foreign teachers of English in Japan were anxiously awaiting overdue wages from the Nova language school yesterday, amid speculation that the corporate giant was close to collapse.

The country’s foreign workers’ union said it could “only hedge a guess that up to 3000” English teachers, many of them young Australians, went without pay last Friday and were left waiting nervously over Japan’s long weekend for the money.

“But at the very least there are hundreds of them. My phone hasn’t stopped,” said Louis Carlet, from the National Union of General Workers.

Some teachers said they were owed thousands of dollars, while others posted messages to say they were quitting in disgust. “I’ve never felt so defeated in my whole life,” said a 24-year-old American teacher, Jerry Johnston, who was considering leaving Japan after just two months but could not afford the air ticket.

It is the second time in two months that Nova has paid staff late. A recent slide in the company’s stock price followed news of a delay in payments to some of its 2000 Japanese staff last month.

The company employs about 7000 foreigners – more than any other Japanese company. Australians make up the backbone of its 5000-strong teaching staff. The company has more than 400,000 students, accounting for the biggest share of Japan’s multibillion-dollar private English teaching industry.

But it has been plunged into financial crisis this year, partly due to overexpansion, but also because the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry banned the company, based in Osaka, from signing new students on long-term contracts for six months.

The order was given after a court ruled that Nova lied about its services and cancellation policy when soliciting students.

The chief executive officer of Nova, Nozomu Sahashi, issued a statement to staff at some branches last Friday to say it had “not been possible to complete all the necessary operations to deposit instructor salaries”.

The statement assured that salaries would be deposited by today. But Mr Carlet told the Herald: “I’m getting reports that they have been cut off by their stationery suppliers, and delivery services, because they’re not able to pay them. They could be on the verge of going under at any moment. It’s very serious.”

Nova posted a 2.5 billion yen ($25 million) loss in operating profits for Japan’s last financial year, which ended in March. An article in the business magazine Toyo Keizai last month said the company was behind in payments to business partners and banks.

Although some teachers said their wages had arrived yesterday, others were still waiting late in the afternoon.

The manager of Nova’s Tokyo branch, Robert Vaughan, could not comment on the matter, and a number provided for media queries at the Osaka headquarters went unanswered yesterday.

A 28-year-old Australian, who works as a teacher at a Nova school outside Tokyo, said: “My pay didn’t come in on time and it was the same for a lot of people here.”

The teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “No one seems to know what’s happening – we’re being kept in the dark.”