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David vs. Goliath (a.k.a my former employer) Part 2

                                                                                                               Do It Yourself

I had no idea that 2 little pieces of paper would take so much effort to obtain. You know in the beginning of “Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark” where Indiana has to escape the cave dodging darts, holes in the ground, sun triggered spikes, tarantulas, and that gigantic ball? I’m a bit jealous, that would be fun compared to the crap I had to do to get a couple pieces of paper. Obviously I’m joking, I’m not sure I’d handle the spider part without freaking out and running into, of course, the sun triggered spikes.

Back to point (sorry) but getting the documents needed was more complicated than it needed to be. As stated in Part 1, to switch my visa from my school to PassageMaker (PM) I needed a letter of release from my school basically saying I’m not working there anymore, and a cancellation letter from the Shenzhen government. For the past week I’ve been trying to get the visa lady at my school to go and cancel my stuff for me (so my visa could be switched) *Background- the lady at my school, whose job is to deal with foreign employer visas DOESN’T speak a word of English. Helpful I know, right?

China changes many of the rules regarding foreign employment. For instance last year, my contract finished in June, but my visa was good until late July (so I could travel). This year though, the government doesn’t want foreigners traveling on work visas so the amount of time from work finishing to visa expiration is much closer. For me my teaching contract ran through July 15, and my visa expired July 21. Now I finally got the visa lady at my school to cancel my documents YESTERDAY July 14th. Meanwhile wonderful, sweet, amazing Lydia here at PM has applied for me and gotten approved my employment with the government. AND she has potentially gotten everything ready for me to get my visa extended in about 1 week. Ridiculously amazing, YET it took 4 days of Lydia and I hassling my school to get them to do twenty minutes of work.

So the visa lady (believe me I want to use names, but have been denied) goes and cancels my stuff yesterday. Today I went to get my letter of release from the school which she refused to give me until ‘xingqier’ or Tuesday in English, the day BEFORE my visa expires, basically ensuring that I’d have to go to Hong Kong and get a new visa. I ask her to call the labor department for foreigners to see if I could get it. She refused. I ask for my letter again, she refused. I literally hop onto the subway and walk there in person, and am handed the letter 30 minutes after I get there. Amazing! If you actually make an effort you get things! She looked positively flabbergasted (I like this word! Don’t get to use it that often) that I got my letter when I showed up demanding my letter of release.

So this is just one tale, but it was a doozy. There’s more to come. I will say that it would have been helpful to be able to speak Chinese myself, but it doesn’t always work that way. Here at my company though, we have Chinese translation services available if you want to check on products, companies, etc on your own. Of course PM does this too (Quality Control, factory searches safety/inspection and translation) and you’d get my gratitude for helping to keep me employed by choosing us!

David vs. Goliath (a.k.a. my former employer) Part 3

                                                                                           Always read the fine print folks

Within Part 1 of this series of blogs I mentioned my skill in reading and finding important stuff within law documents. Not only did I develop this skill, I also developed a knack for finding really crucial and important sh…, um STUFF in contracts (whether I’ve signed them or just reviewed) and so here is the 3rd part to this epic story (mind you these posts are all about the past 2 days) – “Always read the fine print folks” and I’ll tell you why:

My coworker and friend from the Dominican Republic, (I’ll simply just call him ‘V’) and I both decided to quit teaching and do something else (oh yes, all my previous posts written can be applied to him as well). Now Friday July 9, I was told that I didn’t have to come in this past week if I didn’t want to (no need since I wasn’t returning). But I had books to return and needed to clean out my desk so I said that I’d be in on Monday only. Now I have a strong philosophy that if you’re going to sign your name to something (contracts especially) you had better read it carefully. I have read my contract more times than I probably needed, but boy I’m glad I looked it over one last time on Sunday July 11th. I noticed and caught a huge clause in our contracts (V and I have the same contract, just signed at different times. We both used the same agent- more on that later).

This is a direct quotation from my contract- #11 from the Appendix of the contract states “If party B (me) works the full year, Party A (Goliath see above) will pay the agency fee. If not, Party B will pay the agency fee.” The same thing is stated in Chinese in the same space. Now right below that, the owner of the school/headmaster and my signatures are there along with the official stamp of the school. (Everything official needs a red stamp, no stamp, not official, and therefore not binding)

So I call up V and say “hey look at your contract #11 and tell me if you’re thinking what I’m thinking. See V and I (and all other teachers who use the agent) paid the agent via a salary deduction, equaling half of 1 month’s pay. We certainly weren’t too thrilled to give up that kind of cash (to V and I that was 5,000rmb apiece), but we needed the job so we took it in stride. But wait! There was clause #11 saying that the SCHOOL will pay the agency if we work the whole year. Of course the school didn’t tell us about this. But we paid it, so now we should get reimbursed for this right? It was certainly cut and dry to V and I. So Monday morning first thing, we went in and asked about this. The conversation went like this:

Me-“we’d like to talk to you about this clause in our contract saying that the school will pay the agency fee”

My boss- “no we don’t give you that money. We never do this for any foreigner, we told you this (they never mentioned this) we don’t do this”

V and I- “Well ok, we’re going to the Foreign Labor Bureau and we’re going to report this to the government”

David vs. Goliath (a.k.a. my former employer) Part 4

                                                                                                   The Great Fapiao quest of 2010

So after V and I tried to professionally discuss issue #11 (as we called it), we did as promised and went to the Foreign Labor Bureau to see what could be done for us to collect this money owed to us. There was more shuffling between places going on than in a casino in Vegas (just came to me, great right? I know!) V and I finally though got sent to the correct place to make our grievance and see what could be done. We explained our story, (pretty cut and dry, they owe us money, the contract says they would pay something we paid, therefore we are owed money) and had the Bureau employee help us contact the school on our behalf. Heck even SHE said that it was very simple, and that they should follow the contract. But of course with this school nothing is that simple, and so they told us that if after a follow up meeting to sort this out, our next course would be arbitration.

So now it’s Wednesday July 14, V and I meet together to call the school to set up a dialogue with the owner/headmaster, or to collect our money owed. 3 phone calls and 5 text messages later we STILL had heard nothing. The office told us that our boss (who should call the owner/headmaster) was in a meeting. Meanwhile another coworker (I’ll call him K) said our boss was not only in the office but that she just ignored my call. We sent a final message saying, meet us or we’re going back to the government. Within 10 minutes (I like how I have to be a prick to get an answer) I had a response saying, be at the school for a meeting at 9. We said we’d be there at 10:30 and began preparing for them saying no and subsequently going to arbitration.

10:30 yesterday (Thursday July 15) we show up, our boss is in the office waiting. “About the money, its ok, but you need to get us 5,000rmb worth of fapiaos (a tax receipt). And if we didn’t get the fapiaos we wouldn’t get the money, but we had time to gather them up. Initially we’re like ‘ok’ and she leaves really quickly. After calling Mike asking for a fapiao and explaining things, he explains that what they’re doing is illegal. (Mike and PM in whole are pretty knowledgeable about tax laws here. Just look at the section on www.psschina.com about VAT and you’ll get an idea)

So basically in a nutshell they were asking us to spend 5,000rmb in order for us to get 5,000rmb owed to us. Meanwhile they’d take our fapiaos and get tax breaks/refunds from the government. That’s big time illegal, so we were doing our best not to oblige. Next came the fapiao quest. V and I are calling friends, asking for fapiaos, and our friend K suggests going to the agent. We think yea, that works, that’s 5,000 right there. We go there talk to the guy for a while, and get back with what we think are fapios in the amount of 5,000rmb.

So we take these to the school, and they’re immediately rejected, b/c they’re apparently ‘just’ receipts and NOT fapios…..

David vs. Goliath (a.k.a. my former employer) Part 1

Complications

Well the day has come. I’ve finally started my internship with PassageMaker (PM) and China Sourcing Information Center (CSIC). As I said in my introduction I’ll be writing about my life here in China, and the subsequent issues that come with living (especially living in China). Boy o boy I’ve got a hell of a whopper to tell! It’s filled with so much b.s., controversy, triumphs that I may have to separate these into a few posts. The back story-

I went the route of many Poly Science majors in college thinking that I’d eventually end up going to law school. With that in mind, I took a lot of classes focused on early American politics along with Middle Eastern politics with the idea of doing international law. Now in the right group, I’m an expert in both of these fields. I also took some law classes and excelled at nit-picking my way through case law to find the R.O.L (rule of law) and other pertinent things. Fortunately this skill came through for me in the clutch! Now the meat of the story and truly a remarkable/unbelievable/ (insert cheesy Dennis Miller wordage and you get an idea) experience.

My first year in China I worked through a group called CTLC (highly recommend them if you’re interested in teaching in China) [ß shameless plug I know, but I owe ‘em one].

My second year here I didn’t get back in the group and so I went out on my own. I hired an agent (mistake #1 of many to come) and in turn they got me a job at a poorly run school whose name shall not be revealed [slander’s a bitch I’m told] in Futian district. There are 9 districts in Shenzhen btw- Luohu, Futian, Nanshan, Yantian, Bao’an, and Longgang being the main ones; {Luohu being the home of myself and PassageMaker}.

Everything seemed okay at first as it does with any job you have (crossing my fingers that the honeymoon here lasts forever because already it’s night and day in comparison between the two). Now for foreigners, to work in China we must obtain a working or Z visa. You have the Z visa, and your life in China is gravy. You don’t and you can have some real problems. Through a lot of trials and such, I finally got my visa for the school in early April (another blog of explaining needed to explain the debacle that was getting my visa).

Fast forward to June; Mike has hired me to be an intern for American owned and operated PassageMaker, and I’m thrilled to be joining PM, a company you can trust with true communication and transparency. I chose PM, over local alternatives for the same reasons you should too (seriously). I notified my school of my intent to not sign another contract with the school in mid June, within a week after getting hired by Mike. They said they were sorry to see me go (I was jumping for joy- just not at that time b/c that’s just mean). I asked for them to help with getting my cancellation letter* and they said ‘sure no problem’ hahahaha! Well let’s just say, it sure was a problem

*In order to switch jobs and visas, an employee must get a cancellation letter from the government and a release letter from your old employee. This allows your new company to get you a working visa with said company

David vs. Goliath (a.k.a. my former employer) Part 4 cont’d

                                                                                             The Great Fapiao Quest of 2010 cont’d

Just for clarification. A fapiao is like a tax receipt. Basically the Chinese government has some difficulty in getting businesses (especially restaurants since they can open and close so quickly) to pay taxes to the government. So the government created the fapiao/lottery system. You get fapiaos at restaurants that have a scratch off section and you can potentially win money (I’ve yet to win money yet). But how it is a tax payment is- you ask the restaurant for a fapiao and they bring you the equivalent amount to your bill. But when they run out of them, they have to buy more from the government. So they pay their “taxes” by purchasing fapiaos. And the system is overall the same with any business (i.e. a company has to get fapiao sheets from the government).

What my school was wanting was fapiaos from us, so they could in turn get a tax break by saying that they gave us the money as a reimbursement expense. Anyways, the accountant has rejected our receipts which led to me getting A LOT of practice with my minimal Chinese. V and I were livid! The school called the agent explaining things and then in turn the agent talking to us. Turns out, the agent gave the school OUR (V and I) fapiaos. So the school took our fapiaos and told the government that they paid us this money without telling us! So they defrauded V and I of our money and the government! My pre law background kicked into high gear. I told the agent off! Those are our documents, and sometimes police or anybody else who gets curious can audit us at anytime and without fapiaos as proof we can get in serious trouble. I threatened legal action against the school AND the agency for this move. Surprisingly they didn’t budge.

By this time, V and I are exhausted and are nearly ready to quit. BUT we had gone too far, so we went fapiao searching. Fortunately I had enough to cover us both (as V was quite short) and 6 hours later we had our money. Money mind you, which was OWED to us.

So it’s been an interesting few days to say the least. There was lots of crap to deal with even with me giving my old school a year of my services. One has to be careful who they choose to deal with in China. My example is probably quite tame to some of the things that other foreigners have had to deal with. If you’re going to be working or doing business in China, please pick someone reliable. Yes that takes time, effort, and some money, but you won’t regret it. PassageMaker has had some clients for nearly a decade. China is all about the “guangxi” or connections. With PM in your corner, you have more than connection. You have reliability, product confidentiality, rebates (see VAT on our site www.psschina.com) and trust. Trust is something not to be taken for granted here. Trust me; you DON’T want to go through the ringers like I did, ESPECIALLY if you have shipment deadlines or a certain budget to follow.

China’s Mexico is inside China

300x250 run backup

This analogy has a number of problems with it (like most analogies), but I got the point the first time I heard Mike Bellamy make it.

Too many American industries rely on illegal labor to remain cost competitive, thus the constant drama on the border issue.

The China nearly every Westerner sees is the coastal veneer. The majority of China still dwells in the poor, mostly agrarian interior. Their source of cheap labor in internal.

And as this article in Slate by Brett Edkins points out, in a sense, many of those Chinese migrant workers are “illegal” anyway. Key paragraphs:

The United States could begin by conceding one of China’s principal arguments: Human rights are not just about individual liberty, but also economic opportunity. The Chinese “economic miracle,” which lifted 500 million people out of poverty in just one generation, is itself an unprecedented human rights achievement. Yet it gave rise to other pressing human rights concerns, including an issue that threatens to destabilize China’s Communist regime—growing discrimination against the roughly 200 million Chinese citizens who left their rural homes to find jobs in China’s booming cities.

In many ways, these rural migrants resemble undocumented immigrants in the United States. In China, they provide indispensable labor for vast urban construction projects and work in menial jobs as guards, waiters, cooks, or barbers. They are often mistreated by employers, generally live in poor conditions, and receive few social benefits and limited protection from the police. And their children are regularly denied public education.

Chinese newspapers, “Netizens,” and even Communist officials are calling for reforms. Their main target is China’s 50-year-old household registration, or hukou, system. Began as part of China’s state-run economy, the hukou system labels individuals as “rural” or “urban,” indicating their proper place of residence and binding laborers to the land. Today, rural residents are permitted to travel to the cities, but they can still be fined or forcibly returned home if they are caught working or living outside their designated hukou. Obtaining a temporary urban-residency permit from the police is beyond the means of most migrants, requiring a fee and employment documentation. Permanently changing one’s hukou by attending university or joining the military or the Communist Party is similarly out of reach.

Life for a city dweller with a rural hukou is difficult. Their hukou denies them urban welfare and access to public housing. It also excludes them from publicly funded health-insurance schemes. Since fewer than 3 percent can afford health insurance, most avoid medical care altogether. City judges often impose harsher sentences on rural migrants, and employers frequently withhold wages, knowing undocumented workers cannot complain to police without risking exposure.

I will admit I not a fan of the author’s wording, “undocumented migrants”. If you illegally cross a national border anywhere else in the world (including Mexico), you’ve broken the law. Only in the modern American journalist and politician world does that deserve an obscurant euphemism.

However, the point of the article is that despite the rapid advances, parts of the Chinese state are stuck in the Maoist past. One good thing about dealing with PassageMaker, you know our employees are treated well and legal. As a foreign owned firm, the government would come down on us like a ton of bricks were it otherwise.

Regardless, I am happy to see people in China, including members of the Communist Party, start to address the problem.

Some miscellaneous articles

Feeling lazy today. Sometimes the juices ain’t flowing. In no particular order:

Maybe get to some travel blogging tomorrow. Or not. You’ll have to check back to see.