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Saturday, Oct. 27, 2007

Employees' quest to recover wages, get jobs begins


Staff writer

OSAKA — Nova employees and union officials lashed out at the language school chain's move Friday to seek court protection from creditors, and called on the government to ensure its nearly 7,000 workers, many of whom have not been paid for months, receive their wages.

The announcement caught most employees by surprise, said Jamie Scarrabelotti, a Nova employee in Osaka's Namba district.

"We showed up for work at 9 a.m. Friday morning, and it was business as normal. At 11 a.m., I heard from Nova's foreign personnel office that the company was going to ask for government assistance, and that if they didn't get it, they may have to declare bankruptcy," Scarrabelotti said.

At a Friday afternoon news conference in Osaka, a spokesman from the General Union, which represents Japanese and foreign employees at English conversation schools, said they were petitioning the central government to take action and establish emergency measures to assist Nova teachers and staff.

"We can't be very optimistic about Nova's recovery. Just yesterday (Thursday), Nova said that unpaid salaries would be paid and that students would receive refunds by the end of the month. Now, they file for bankruptcy protection. We can't trust what Nova officials say," said Katsuji Yamahara, a union representative.

Toshiaki Higashibata, a lawyer representing Nova, told a separate news conference that unpaid salaries had reached ¥4 billion. However, Yamahara warned that the government needed to ensure Nova provides proper documentation of unpaid salaries in the weeks and months ahead.

"We're worried that even if the company undergoes restructuring, the same problems related to unpaid salaries will not be solved. Nova should continue paying teachers and staff, even though the schools are now closed down," Yamahara said.

The concern about receiving unpaid wages is especially strong among employees and union officials because Nozomu Sahashi, who was ousted as Nova president Thursday, has disappeared and it remains unclear as to who is in charge.

"Who are the real owners of Nova today? We don't know," Yamahara said.

The General Union also said it will soon formally approach the immigration bureau to request it extend the visas of Nova's foreign teachers who wish to stay in Japan and find other work. The embassies of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom will also be asked to offer whatever assistance they can, including financial help, it added.

The union also called upon the central government to provide information about Nova's situation in English.

"Nova claims to be the largest employer in Japan of foreigners, and a lot them don't speak Japanese. Unfortunately, there are few counselors at job agencies who speak English, and almost no bilingual information on the Internet. What's needed are counselors with a foreign-language ability, as well as bilingual pamphlets and bilingual Internet home pages," Yamahara said.

To deal with immediate Nova-related staff problems, there will be two union-sponsored events over the next few days. In Tokyo, the National Union of General Workers Tokyo Nambu will hold a hearing for teachers and administrative staff Sunday at 7 p.m. at its office. The General Union will hold three separate hearings Monday at the PLP Kaikan in central Osaka. Two of the hearings will be in English and one will be in Japanese.

Call (03) 3434-0669 for more information about the Tokyo hearings, and (06) 6352-9619 for those in Osaka.

With additional reporting by Shihoko Nagayama



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