The embassy of the Philippines in Hanoi is seeking to work with Vietnamese authorities to investigate a Filipino teacher's accusations that an English language teaching school forced her into "severe working and living conditions."
A Tuoi Tre report Friday quoted the embassy as saying that they will officially bring up the case with Vietnam's Ministry of Labors, War Invalids and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education to clarify the situation.
The embassy was contacted by the newspaper after it learnt of a notice on the wesbite of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs on November 19, which said that a 32-year-old teacher has accused the Blue Ocean Language School of making her teach English without a contract or work permit.
In her complaint to the embassy, the teacher, Gazelle P.A., said upon her arrival in Hanoi on November 4, she was driven 100 kilometers from the city, had her passport confiscated, and made to work immediately.
She also claimed that she lived in a building which was locked up and she was not allowed to go anywhere. Furthermore, she was asked to wear sexy clothes when working.
Tuoi Tre reporters later found that the teacher actually worked for Ocean International Language, which runs English teaching centers across Vietnam, and not the Blue Ocean Language School.
In an interview with the newspaper, Nguyen Van Thuong, head of Ocean International Language's HR department, denied the accusations.
He said Gazelle was hired to work for his company's center in the northern province of Thai Binh, where teachers were given accommodation in the center itself.
Three sets of keys to the building were given to a manager and two groups of teachers, meaning that three-four teachers had to share one set, Thuong said.
Although this causes certain inconvenience to some teachers, it is not that they have confined the teachers, he said. He noted that when Gazelle went to Hanoi to file her complaint on November 12, she had told them that she was going to a local supermarket, but no one stopped her.
As for her passport, Thuong said she, like many Filipino teachers who work in Vietnam, entered the country as a tourist, so their employers needed their passports to have their tourist visas changed into temporary worker visas.
The change usually takes about one week and costs some $180, which is paid by the company, he said, adding that they also needed to keep her paspport to apply for a work permit for her.
Thuong also denied the accusation that the teacher was asked to wear sexy clothes. He showed reporters the center's printed regulations, which ban teachers from wearing jeans, sports clothes or halterneck tops.
He said they had no idea about Gazelle's complaint until another Filipino teacher called them and expressed concern about the website notice.
After that, the school returned her passport through the embassy staff, Thuong said. Before she left for Hanoi (and did not return), Gazelle had told the center's representative that she did not want to work anymore, Thuong said.
The Tuoi Tre report said that before Gazelle flew to Vietnam, she had received a copy of her one-year contract with Ocean International Language through email on September 26.
The contract offered her $1,200 a month plus bonuses, including overtime working wages, and accommodation fees. It stated that she would work six days per week with a total of 40 hours and was free to work overtime, as long as it did not exceed eight hours per day, the newspaper reported.
The report said the company also sent her its requirements for English teachers, including qualifications like masters or bachelor degrees, a Cambridge Certificate in English Language Teaching for Adults (CELTA) or similar certificate besides work experience.
The Tuoi Tre report said Gazelle's is one of the cases showing how English teaching centers in Hanoi are taking short-cuts in complying with procedures on recruiting foreigners as they turn to Filipinos in the face of the increasing demand. Native speakers are much more expensive to hire, the report said.
It said with the tourist visa, Gazelle was not allowed to work in Vietnam, but the Ocean International Language had let her start working while they were completing procedures for having her visa status changed.
Only when the visa is changed successfully will the two sides sign a contract and the teacher be provided with a work permit, adding that the contract sent to the teachers via email is just a sample with agreed basic terms like salary and working time.
The newspaper quoted Thuong as saying that this shortcut is used for teachers hired online, while those who are living in Vietnam can sign contracts directly.
Meanwhile, the website notice cited the Philippine embassy in Hanoi as saying that it has come across several cases where Filipinos who enter Vietnam as tourists have ended up in severe working and living conditions
Filipinos who wish to work in Vietnam need to carefully check the background of their future employer, review the terms of their employment contract, and go through proper channels and secure a work permit, Philippine Ambassador Jerril Santos said.
Santos told Tuoi Tre that the embassy hopes to discuss the matter with Vietnam's education ministry, also noting that the two countries have already signed a bilateral agreement on academic cooperation.
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