OWLS Dispatch company ordered to repay illegal salary deductions to twenty teachers

Apr 4, 2010

FGU has represented many OWLS ALTs who have quit for various reasons, only to find that OWLS have refused to pay their last month’s salary unless they signed the OWLS “designated resignation form” – which states that the ALT knowingly broke their contracts. The FGU demanded that OWLS pay salary for work completed, to no avail. In the end we made representations to the Labour Standards Office (LSO) who forced OWLS to pay the salary which was withheld.

To try and avoid this, OWLS in their wisdom drafted an “Agreement” that all ALTs are made to sign when they sign their contract. It gives OWLS permission to deduct a 114,000YEN penalty to cover costs and damages caused by an ALT quitting. It is also a disincentive for ALTs to quit – something quite common with their poor working conditions and salary.

The FGU has in the past pointed out that it is illegal to pre-determine a penalty for quitting (Labor Standards Law Article 16), but OWLS defended their right to do such. In another attempt to worm its way out of paying August downtime, the OWLS monthly salary (advertised 220-260K) is what new employees expect.

However, in orientation they are told that the monthly is for 11 months work, and annual salary is the 11 months multiplied by the monthly salary. However they are “kind” enough to pay the annual salary over 12 monthly payments so the ALT will not be out of pocket in August. A cynical way to make the pay look good, then lower it. As in many cases, companies will continue to conduct illegal practices until an employee stands up and demands their rights – which a FGU member did.

She signed up with Owls in April and after 4 days of training she started teaching on April 20 with the other 29 ALTs  working at Fukuoka Prefectural high schools. However, to her surprise the traveling time to the school was over 2 hours one way and was over the maximum 15,000yen travel allowance per month. After Golden Week she conveyed her desire to resign. “Please stay till the end of May”, pleaded the dispatch company so she continued the hard slog to the school till the end of May. Then came the sledge hammer – not only did they deduct the 114,000YEN “penalty”, but they declared that “because she worked so few days in April she was only to be paid for the days worked, not the month”.

Her pay packet for 2 months was minus the 114,000YEN penalty AND less than half a month for April. The ALT didn’t take this lying down, and got in touch with a lawyer, who wrote a “please explain” letter to OWLS. You would think that when you have broken the labour law and you get a letter from a lawyer pointing it out that a company might back down – not OWLS. Not only did they defend their actions saying it was perfectly legal, but they enlisted a lawyer who wrote a reply defending OWLS’ actions.

The lawyer angle ended in a bit of a stale mate, and the former ALT was not quite sure what to do – then she contacted the Union. Having dealt with OWLS in many cases it was clear that they were not going to listen to the Union or lawyers for that matter. The only voice that they do listen to is the Labour Standards Office. The FGU made representations to the LSO and it was deemed that OWLS had a case to answer for. Within a week the LSO had judged that OWLS had broken the LSL, and issued them with a reprimand ordering them to change their practices.

The FGU member got all her salary returned. There have been upwards of twenty ALTs who have quit OWLS over the past 2 years – all having the 114,000YEN deducted. They are entitled to get it back. Despite the reprimand, OWLS has yet to inform their ALTs that the “Agreement” they were made to sign is illegal and they cannot deduct the penalty for quitting.

Do you think OWL’s legal compliance record is fit to receive a public tender contract for ALTs?