Friday, June 28, 2013

Divided We Beg...or do we?

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So, I'm not far from declaring officially, to my company, that I won't be signing a new employment contract. I'm posting this online because with only 2 months to go until my current contract is up, I feel it doesn't matter if they find this (although they probably won't). My decision is final. I'll be willing to work freelance for them if there are a few classes or seminars they want me to take (loyally renewing classes, for example, or seminars where they really need someone as deft with the material as me) but I won't stay on contract.

And that got me thinking: I have a friend who, although he does a lot of freelance work, is fiercely pro-union. He's something of a union organizer in Japan, and believes strongly in job security, well-remunerated workers, company-sponsored training and professional development and benefits packages that include fair compensation of annual leave and overtime limits/pay (he's also pro-single payer healthcare, as most of us Asia expats are). I'm totally with him on this - united we bargain, divided we beg and all that. Don't run, organize!

And yet, I'm still giving up employment under a contract and attempting to go freelance, at least for awhile. Why? If I really believe in all that job-security unionized-workers stuff (and I do), wouldn't I be looking for a job with more security, not less? I can't imagine what sort of work has less security than freelance work, and yet I do believe I can make a successful go of it while I start the Delta (I need time and flexibility for that) and look, at my leisure, for a job I want to take at a pay grade I'm willing to accept, with benefits that appeal to me - if I ever find it.

The thing is, my current job does offer flexibility - to me, at least. Not to anyone else. But if I tell them "no", they respect it. The pay is fair. Not as good as it could be, but my main issue isn't the money. I make enough. They generally stay out of my hair. I have to say, honestly, that this past year they've just about been good to me. They've treated me pretty well. I mean they still constantly screw up all sorts of administrative things and haven't quite figured out how to edit materials and keep the edits updated. It took them nine weeks (9 weeks!) to get a non-camera phone for me to bring to a heavily secure client site (I offered to get my own, but I wouldn't have been compensated for it). And they screwed over my husband vis-a-vis residency and work permits in a way that is totally unacceptable. I've stayed this long only because we agreed I'd stay long enough to get my APRC, run out that contract, and not sign another one.

So it's not really true that I am going freelance "for the flexibility", either, even if I am quitting some time after the fact as a direct result of how they treated Brendan.

I've come to this conclusion after a lot of thought: I'm going freelance because while I wouldn't mind a secure job with a salary and benefits*, I have found so far that there are very few companies to which I wish to be obligated. At least not in Taiwan. I mean, certainly when you agree to take on a course you are agreeing to a certain set of obligations and an amount of cooperation. That's not what I mean. What I mean is all the other stuff often found in foreign teacher contracts in Taiwan - from non-competition clauses to deposits (I didn't have one and would never agree to one, but they do pop up) to "we can sue you if" to all sorts of things that give the company power and give the teacher no agency. There is a lot in there about what the teacher must do, what the teacher owes the company, and what the company can do for itself, but often nothing about what the company must do for the teacher or what the teacher is entitled to as a paid employee.

Basically, so many contracts seem to say "We'll pay you X to do Y, and nothing more. We have the right to do A, B and C to you. You are obligated to provide D, E and F to us. You have no other rights. If you do anything we don't like, we can also do Z to you. If we do something you don't like, deal with it. No complaining." The buxiban I worked for in my first year had a contract like that, and my sister had to wade through quite a few preposterous contracts before she found a school she was willing to work for. Even then, it didn't work out - they still treated her (and everyone else) like wage slaves. (Her current buxiban is generally better, although she does not have two consecutive days off).

Wake up and smell the capitalism, I guess.

Why the hell would I sign something like that again, now that I have an APRC and no longer have to?

And as a result, despite my being pro-union and pro-job-security and pro-employer-employee cooperation, freelancing is more appealing to me than formal employment at one firm. No firm, so far, has proposed a contract that enticed me enough to sign it.

One reason, to be honest, I am not signing a new contract is that I see no reason why I can't do just as well taking classes with other companies. I understand why my company doesn't want employees doing that (I wouldn't either), but other companies pay better, can offer classes when mine does not, and so I don't wish to be an employee anymore.

I've met some good bosses in Taiwan - Brendan's current boss seems like a good guy from what I know of him (might be doing some freelance for them, fingers crossed), and the company I'm currently arranging some freelancing classes with for once I'm free are good guys, but the normal obligations of teaching a class are enough for me. I see no reason to obligate myself further. Fortunately, they're on board with that idea. I talked awhile back to another well-known business English outfit. They came pretty close to what I was looking for: paid time off, year-end bonuses, housing allowance, set hours with no overtime, fair teaching hours. At the time they had no openings - it was just an informational meeting - but I'd consider them, depending on salary offered. One turn-off was the fact that the paid leave was set according to their schedule; you really couldn't take time off outside of it. That would normally be fine as the time off given was quite generous, but if I'm going to go abroad to do my Delta Module 2, it may not work for me.

And for other schools and companies, if they can't or won't offer me a contract that gives me real agency, freelancing is still more appealing. I'll take freedom without security to employment without agency.

So, basically that's it. That's how this pro-union, pro-job security, pro-formal employment with benefits girl decided to forgo job security and formal employment with benefits and hit it up freelance-style. I hope things change job-wise in Taiwan for us qualified teachers (I've got nothing to say regarding 22-year-olds with no experience who are coming over for a few years of fun, although maybe some of them will turn out to be solid teachers and will stick with it, who knows?).

Until then, you can find me in my home office, doing my own thing.

*Some benefits bosses in Taiwan might want to consider when hiring qualified teachers: salary with set working hours, REAL year-end bonuses (not NT$6000, try one or two months' salary), regular performance reviews with REAL raises (NT$25/hour is not a raise, it's a joke), paid annual leave and paid Chinese New Year leave, training support - and not the "unpaid worthless training on a Sunday morning that counts toward no qualifications and isn't run by professionals" kind, but the "we'll support you in getting actual certifications and taking actual courses that count for something" kind). Offer me that and I might want to come work for you.

2 comments:

Ryan Berg said...

So what you want is a job in a university. There are plenty of English/TESOL MA degrees available to foreigners here in Taiwan - spend 2 years and pick one up. Most of them will also offer you TA positions, and possibly a job after graduation.

Jenna Cody said...

Ryan - I'm not so sure. From what I've heard the salaries for those jobs are quite low, at least by my standards. I am not going to sign a contract for a salary I don't like now that I don't have to. What I'm more interested in is in-company corporate training with set hours, at a foreigner/expat salary.

Or just staying freelance if that works out for me.

Not going to pick up any ol' TESOL Master's here. When I do my Master's, I'm going to do it the way I want, and will probably have to find a workaround to getting a solid degree from an internationally reputable university (maybe the programs here are good, but I am talking about good + reputable).