Fined Singaporean school sued by teachers

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Foreign teachers sue a Singaporean school for illegally terminating contracts; the accused deny all charges


Foreign teachers meet with lawyers from Nguoi Ngheo (The Poor) law firm on Wednesday (May 30). The law firm has agreed to offer free assistance to five teachers who are pursuing a labor lawsuit against the Singaporean-owned Raffles International Training Center in Ho Chi Minh City.

Foreign teachers are suing a controversial Singaporean school in Ho Chi Minh City for illegally terminating their contracts, and the school's general director has denied all charges.

The five instructors are demanding that Singaporean-owned Raffles International Training Center (RITC) RITC pay them a total of more than VND1 billion (US$48,000) in owed salary and severance.

They filed five separate lawsuits at the Phu Nhuan District People's Court on May 24 with the free assistance of law firm Nguoi Ngheo (The Poor).

According to the claims made by the teachers in the suits, between March 5 and April 9 of this year Raffles Vietnam unilaterally terminated its contracts with teachers Seidel Franziska and Nicole Mandy Baudisch (Germany), Alfredo De La Casa Ayuso (UK), Joshe Lane Flaten (US) and Philippe Daniel Neyroud (Switzerland).

The crux of the case is whether or not the school had the right to do so. The school claims that it did so because its operations were shut down by authorities after it was fined for unrelated breeches in local regulations late last year.

However, the teachers' lawyers argue that authorities only temporarily suspended operations at the school and the institution thus needs to honor its contracts.

The teachers were paid for varying degrees of time after the suspension and are suing to receive all salary payments from the date they had to stop working until the date of the lawsuit. They are also suing for what they claim is fair severance pay.

Illegal courses

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Last December, the Ministry of Education and Training fined RITC for offering advanced diplomas and degrees though it was not licensed to do so.

RITC was only licensed to offer short-term vocational diplomas in fashion design, interior design, graphic design, and multimedia design.

However, it was found to have enrolled 396 students in advanced diploma and bachelor's degree programs associated with the Raffles College of Higher Education Singapore and bachelor's degree programs associated with the Raffles College of Design and Commerce Australia.

Along with the VND75 million ($3,600) fine, Raffles was ordered to stop advertising and providing these unauthorized courses.

Teachers say in the lurch

One of the teachers who filed the suit told Vietweek on condition of anonymity that he had not received his due compensation from the school.

"When I received my redundancy letter, with no redundancy or compensation, I wrote back to senior management highlighting what my legal compensation was. Several letters later, no response."

He said RITC's general director told him personally that the company did not need to compensate him because the school had stopped operations in Vietnam.

The teacher claimed that RITC had refused to negotiate exit conditions, pay what he claimed they owed him, or meet with his legal representative.

"And if that was not enough, Raffles blackmailed and threatened some of the teachers including myself: if we did not sign a letter accepting that we were happy with our redundancy we would not be paid our last salary (in my case).

"Some other teachers were threatened with not having their passports back if they did not sign such a document, very mafia style," he added.

Edmund Hwong, RITC's general director, has rejected such accusations.

"With the suspension of our operations in Vietnam since December 2011, we have had little choice but to let go of staff who have declined transfers to our other colleges in the region or who have been made redundant as a result of the suspension of our license.

"Lecturers were still fully paid with salary even though they were not teaching during the four month suspension period."

The teacher who spoke with Vietweek denied RITC had offered him a job elsewhere.

Hwong said all staff made redundant were given due notice and compensation "in accordance with their respective employment contracts and in compliance with Vietnamese Labor Law."

"All foreign lecturers have even been given Vietnamese visas to enable them to look for alternative employment in Vietnam and have been provided with air tickets back to their home countries to help them get home if they were unable to find alternative employment in Vietnam," he told Vietweek on Wednesday (May 30).

He said all local Vietnamese staff and the majority of the foreign staff have left the company "amicably" and only a small number of foreign staff currently were in dispute with the company.

"˜Legal basis'

According to lawyer Le Quang Vu of the Nguoi Ngheo Law Firm, RITC's claim that it terminated the contracts because it was forced to halt operations in Vietnam is false.

"In a decision to issue fines over administrative violations issued on December 29, 2011, the Ministry of Education and Training's inspectors ordered Raffles to stop"¦ illegal courses only.

"Other legal activities were not banned and Raffles Vietnam did not have its license revoked."

For Vu, who said his firm took the case pro-bono because it could be high profile, this is enough for a case.

"There is legal basis for the employees to file lawsuits demanding that company continue their contracts and make relevant payments and compensation."

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