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Dealing with problems at work
Author:Roy Chambers    Date:2010/02/09

Dealing with problems at work


Going to another country to work almost always guarantees that you will face problems both in your life and work. It can be the most exciting or the worst experience in your life. Often it is a combination of both.


Should a problem occur with your employer you have three basic options. The first is direct negotiation, the second is leaving that company and the third is legal action.


A lot of people find work through agents. Now I have some very good friends who are agents. I would trust them with my life, but not with an employment contract. The agent introduces you to the employer, but make sure you confirm everything directly with the employer and realize when problems occur you have to negotiate with the employer, not the agent.


Most people will have to deal with minor annoyances with things like accommodation, teaching resources, schedule and so on. Most foreign teachers end up negotiating these things with a foreign teacher assistant. Usually it is easier for this person to give you troubles than to actually try and help you. As I am able to speak Chinese I have a slight advantage. In one place, whenever something was broken in my apartment, I would call the assistant and she would rudely refuse to help. Whenever I walked into her office – where her managers would be hearing me ask for help – she would literally leap across the room grab the phone and start calling someone to fix it.


The rule is, don’t argue with the middle or little people. Sure you can ask them first and many are very helpful. If they refuse you have to go directly to managers to deal with a problem. Usually managers will go out of their way to help you.


It can be very difficult to negotiate with someone who provides you with a place to live and a visa. If things become unacceptable then often your simplest choice is to leave that job. Under Chinese law you need to obtain a letter of release from your contract (also referred to as a letter of recommendation). Make it simple for them to give you a letter of release. Write it out yourself, it can be in Chinese or English. Simply take a copy of the letter with you and get them to sign and stamp it.


They might refuse to give you this letter but a call to the labor bureau usually fixes this. The labor bureau is essentially a labor arbitration body whose job is to negotiate with the employer on your behalf. A call to the labor bureau or the local foreign experts bureau can get your employer to comply.


Your final step is legal action. When taking action against smaller private companies and schools the courts in China are both efficient and increasingly reliable. However, unless you are owed a lot of money it will probably cost you more to stay around and fight it in the courts than you are owed. After all, most small companies fail to pay because they have financial problems. So by the time you win the court battle they mightn’t have any money.


Remember legal action is the final step, which you can only take after you have gone to a labor organization such as the labor bureau for arbitration. My advice in these matters is usually the same. It is usually simpler to move on and concentrate on your future than worry about what happened in the past. You will find that it is easy enough to find a job that suits you if the current one isn’t working out.



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