“They made a lot of promises,” says one American worker, Mark, who asked to be identified only by his first name, “and it looks like they don’t plan to keep any of them.”
He has been employed as an English teacher at Berlitz Czech Republic for the past month or so, and doesn’t plan to see any of his wages anytime soon.
I enjoy this sort of abuse, after having worked as a migrant berry picker in coastal Maine, so I signed up. Czech law requires that a foreign national be registered with the foreign police as a resident alien before they may be employed. Although most language schools in the Czech Republic offer aid with the registration service as part of their hiring policy, Berlitz refuses to do so.
“Why should we have to pay someone to do this,” says Renata Dudkova, director at Berlitz’s Jame Street location.
Unfortunately for the teachers, the intricacies of rapidly changing Czech law and the registration process often prove to be overwhelming. “The average life span of a Berlitz instructor is about 4 months,” says Brian, a long-time employee. “They lose a lot of good, qualified instructors because they refuse to work with them.”
Since the registration process often takes more than three months, even if all the proper papers are presented, many of the employees must leave before they are paid.
The promise of monthly “advances” keep instructors at the school. “The advances are written off as ‘client dinners’ and ‘office expenses’ by the accounting department,” the training supervisor said to us during the week-long teacher training course, which all instructors are supposed to participate in. “They led us to believe we would be paid, that it was just a formality, but I don’t know if that’s true anymore,” says Mark.
“If they’re prepared to employ us illegally, they should be prepared to pay us illegally,” adds a colleague, another new hire. Most teachers speculate that a new law, which imposes a hefty fine of 250,000Kc, or about US$7,000, on companies that employ illegals, caused Berlitz to reverse its “under the table” policy.
“Everyone who started working when I did has been paid by this method,” says one British teacher, who estimates that Berlitz owes him about 40,000Kc. “I have another job starting at the beginning of October in another country. They’ve told me that I won’t be paid until I show them a green card, but they have all of my documents. I’ve had to draw on my savings in order to arrange for my next job.”
Despite having been given more than a month’s notice of his departure date, Berlitz kept his paperwork in the company safe for more than two weeks, he says. My experience with Berlitz began to go sour when I discovered the changes in the payment policy. No advances, period.
After a particularly nasty day of trekking all over the city without compensation for transport or time, I quit. When I demanded to be paid the whopping $200 they owed me, I was told by country director Milada Hanzakova that Berlitz, “has no record of you having worked for us.”
I showed her signed documents demonstrating that, to the contrary, I had worked more than 30 hours at the v Jame location without even having submitted papers to the foreign police. Half of those hours precede the date noted on my work permit, which Berlitz is required to provide, proving that I was illegally employed.
Renata Dudkova, the manager of the v Jame location, gave me the papers when I quit. After glancing at the papers, Milada broke out laughing and called for building security to remove me.
“Off with his head,” she commanded in Czech. I was gently escorted to the door by some poor Rollins look-alike who was sadly, a bit too heavy to pass police muster. Berlitz’s worldwide reputation as a leader in the language instruction field attracts influential, corporate clients who pay top dollar for lessons.
The average 45 minute lesson carries a 500Kc price tag, about 500% more than the teacher’s wage of 135Kc per ‘unit’ (before taxes), and about 200Kc higher than the city average of 300 Kc.
“They offer quite a poor service to clients,” says the British teacher, who had previous experience as a language teacher. “They were understaffed when I was hired, so I only had a 4-day training period, which is about half of what they require. Some of the others who were hired with me had no experience at all, not even a T.E.F.L. (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate. After 3 days, they were expected to teach clients who were paying up to 1000Kc an hour.”
Berlitz’ clients include the cosmetics giant Gillette, IBM, H/Z Praha, and the French supermarket chain Mana.
“These [teachers] come and go,” said Ms. Hanzakova, “why should we worry about them?” She might as well have been talking about her clients. It’s reassuring to know that multi-national corporations are “keeping the faith” in the Czech Republic by hiring abrasive, ignorant managers like Hanzakova.
The kicker is that most 12 year-old kids speak better English than the illustrious manager. Don’t believe me? Give her a call at: +420 800 221 221. Tell her that she’s cute when she’s angry.