We were contracted to be paid for the full month of September but we were being told that our last day at the school was September 16, 2016.
Something was rotten in the Kingdom of Thailand - it was like we were having our arses kicked out of a job too early.
Ken, our Cameroonian man mountain of a teaching agent, was planning on pulling a fast one and intending to pay us for only two weeks in September.
This had been the piss poor situation in the 'Land of the Smiles' for a good many years. The government gave the schools a budget that allowed for foreign teachers to be fairly paid for 12-month contracts. Nonetheless, in their wisdom, the directors of the schools had once-upon-a-time came up with the notion of farming out the job of hiring and firing English teachers to agents - by awarding them 11-month contracts. These agents had cut up, divided and bastardized the budget to such an extent that the greedy unscrupulous skinflints often only paid the teachers on meager eight and half month contracts.
We were going to gang up on Cameroonian Ken the next time he came to the school. We had made a pact - the five of us EFL teachers - we would bring salvation back.
Andre, a portly amiable British bloke in his mid-fifties, a former short-term computer engineer and long term spiritualist.
Too-tall-Tim, a forty-something six-feet 7 inches symmetrically perfect, former (among many other things) runway male-model.
Thai John, in his late thirties and having been raised in the USA had returned to the land of his forefathers for a more relaxed lifestyle. Big Eddie, a Texan and another man mountain in his mid-fifties with an exuberant mane of grey hair. Eddie used to be in mid-management for a major oil company and had also been a keen trade union spokesman.
And last but not least, myself, Aussie Pete. What can I say? I have been described as a bit of a 'rough diamond,' yet, a rugged opal might be nearer the mark.
A few years ago, in my late thirties I sold up me roofing business and emigrated to 'Amazing Thailand'. The main thing that prompted me to make a decision of such considerable consequences was seeing my then live-in girlfriend and love of my life, Irene, drop down dead before my very eyes.
Later the quack told me that she had a rare genetic condition that she was never aware of and apparently it was like a time-bomb in her head that could have gone off at any time! Accordingly, she could possibly have lived for another thirty years but of course, sadly she didn't. It made me realize that life is too short to be carting tiles up a ladder.
Back to where the meeting was about to take place - our forty-square-meter office on the fifth floor in a far corner of the hundred odd-year-old school building.
It was adjacent to the ironically named English Clinic - an extra-large room capable of seating more than fifty students, with two rows of benches and desks almost the breadth of the room, except for the dividing narrow aisle down the centre that leads to our office's entrance door. (In retrospect it would take more than a clinic to cure the English language problems of these students, though in fairness they were both particularly charming and likable young people.) Our chairs and desks appeared to be the original archaic ones that had been there since the school's christening. They were laid out in a domino five pattern with mine facing the door.
Around the middle of the month, an inoffensive 'camp as a Christmas hamper' Thai teacher would bring some paperwork for us to sign for our salary payments. This time I quickly looked through the papers until I found what I was looking for - the school's invoice for Ken - it read 197,000 baht. This amounted to the fact that Ken was making a profit of 45,500 baht per month, for doing little more than coming to collect the money on the fifth of every month and putting it in his back arse pocket.
In any case, Big Eddie, sitting upright at his desk to the left of the office's entrance was gonna be our spokesman when Ken came to the office to discuss the summer camps. Right there and then he suggested to Ken that he pay an extra week's money to each of us for October, as opposed to one week's pay from October 24th in the second semester, which would then make half a month's salary.
This being agreed, we'd accept only two weeks pay for September so we had in effect met Ken halfway. (Let me put that in plain English, Ken was going to rip us off for two week's pay, but we'd asked him to consider ripping us off for only one week's pay.)
Ken as I've already said, a massive individual, had been sitting all the time hunched up and central between my desk and the door on a small school chair that he'd borrowed from a classroom. Now Eddie had finished, Ken had his oversized head in his outsized right hand and he was looking like a man under extreme pressure. What's more, he was focusing hard on the tiled floor beneath his size 15's, while sweating profusely in air-conditioning.
For a full 8 minutes he remained in this state as we stood there watching him, waiting patiently for his verdict until finally he spoke, saying that he didn't make very much money from this school and that he'd have to think about it.
Too-tall-Tim just looked across at Ken from his desk with much disappointment and simply said, "You told me that you only got paid a half month for September."
My sentiments were there'd been a sticky-fingered fucker in the woodpile and we'd caught him. I guess I lacked the decorum.
The Ebony Pimpernel had shot off on a pretext and didn't return until an hour or so later. Wherein we immediately asked him what he'd decided to do. This time standing behind the classroom chair and in front of the door he was still saying that he was gonna think about it. Ken was just stalling. The summer camps were on the last two days of the semester. Once we'd attended these, he wouldn't care what we did. He'd be able to find new teachers in the school break.
Consequently it was obvious he wasn't even gonna respond, nor was I gonna let him off that easily.
Now standing at my desk, I started to push him for an answer. He was quick to anger and we began shouting at each other. Big Eddie had risen and moved in front of his desk to Ken's flank and was facing me, motioning a huge hand as a sign for me to calm down, which I did, giving Ken the answer that he wanted - that I would be at the first summer camp tomorrow.
Apart from anything else, the Thai teachers were having a meeting in the English Clinic and we hardly wanted a punch-up in the teachers' office. However within seconds, Andre the maths teacher started digging into Ken about his responsibilities as an employer to his employees. Shouting erupted once more. Big Eddie played the peacemaker again and Ken was off once again without a by-your-leave.
In case you are wondering about Thai John, when it came to the crunch he'd made himself as scarce as a Southern Australian corroboree frog. Even though he was not a bad bloke and like I said, he'd already opted for an easier life.
Over the mid-semester break, Andre, a well travelled long term expat and forever the optimist, had still been emailing Ken the weasel at 'The Best Center Agency' for an answer - a simple yes or no.
A real blow came on the 16th October, a week or so before the start of the second semester - an email of redundancy for both Andre and myself.
Incidentally, poor old Andre was rattling on about how we could sue Ken as he hadn't given us a month's notice. Two facts that Andre was ignoring were that our contracts were in English and therefore not legally binding in Thailand and that neither of us had work permits. We were both working illegally. (It is believed that as many as 50% of foreign teachers employed in Thailand work on a cash-in-hand basis.)
Give credit to Andre though, he'd done his best to become legal and above board. He twice travelled to Penang Island in Malaysia in order to change his tourist visa to a non-immigrant B, which was required to get a work permit.
Both times he was let down by Ken who had failed to come up with the relevant paperwork at the last minute. After the second time this happened, Andre confronted Ken asking him why he had let him down so badly; it wasn't as if Andre could easily afford this. Astonishingly, Ken then admitted that he wasn't even registered as an agent in Bangkok. He was only registered in Nakhon Nayok, a province about an hour from Bangkok where he was the agent for five other schools. As it happened, Ken wasn't even able to get teachers work permits in Bangkok - the African Artful Dodger was strictly 100% illegal!
In November, Andre went along to the Central Thai Labor Office in Hualampong, Bangkok. He spoke to a clerk there who was very helpful and told him among other things that the only thing that mattered was that he had a contract. It didn't matter that the contract was in English, nor did the Labor Office care that he hadn't had a work permit - they don't have jurisdiction for that kind of thing.
The only thing was Andre didn't have a contract! He believed in taking a man's word and a firm handshake. Fortunately, I'm not so trusting. I did possess a contract which I lent him so that he could get it translated into Thai which was a legal requirement. Andre was also told to take a Thai speaker with him the next time he went to the Labor Office to make his claim.
Andre phoned me in February to tell me the fantastic news. He had won! Ken and his wife attended mitigation and they were both trying to worm out of it by saying that Andre was a poor teacher - the school had said he was incapable of teaching and that he'd been absent many times. The latter was true - he had had a serious health problem and he'd brought doctors certificates to prove this.
The mitigator basically said that none of that mattered because the teacher had a contract. You should have given him one full month's notice or if not, paid him a full month's salary. Therefore you have to pay 32,000 baht compensation.
Ken refused to pay so Andre submitted to negotiate and they agreed on 22,000 baht. Ken would make two payments of 11,000 baht over the next two months.
Andre had been right all along and a precedent had been set.
So in March, I went along to the Central Thai Labor Office in Hualampong with my half-Thai thirteen-year-old 'going on seventeen-year-old' daughter to make a claim because everything had to be translated from English to Thai and vice versa. To track back, I had been employed on a full-time basis at 36,500 baht per month.
There is a conventional room of about a dozen desks each manned by a clerk who is there to help advise you on your claim. We had drawn number ticket number 7 and after about 30 minutes with my daughter having done most of the talking in Thai, I understood the clerk to declare that I could make a claim against Ken for 45,800 baht. And he stated clearly in English that I had ten years to do so! A date for mitigation was set for 10 June 2017, and I could hardly wait as money won is twice as sweet as money earned!
Three months rolled by and we arrived jus before 9.00 am on June 10th and found ourselves first on the list.
At the mitigation building, we were told to wait in a room opposite the reception desk. After about five minutes we were told to enter to what was a small room of approximately ten meters square. It was windowless and furnished with a large oblong table and around it stood seven chairs.
We were sitting there waiting when Ken's middle-aged seedy looking solicitor came in and sat down. I impulsively felt embarrassed for him. His clothes were threadbare and 1980's in style and he looked more like a long term unemployed doorman than a legal representative.
He was directly followed by the mitigator, a thin and elderly smart-looking gentleman whose persona betrayed a mild and pleasant manner.
The mitigator smiled meekly and nodded to each of us in turn, while making his way to and sitting down carefully on a swivel chair. I had prepared a lot of written detailed information with proof to back up everything if needs must. In effect I had visualized myself fighting a long and hard case - LA Law style.
In total contrast that will seldom have been matched, Ken's solicitor began by offering to pay 36,500 baht and I nearly fell off my chair because of his reasoning: "Mr.Peter just stopped coming to the school - Mr.Ken didn't terminate his contract," I was finding it hard to keep a straight face, but I just about managed it as I handed two copies of the email Ken sent me to terminate my contract; one in the English, the other in Thai.
The mitigator read the Thai version and showed it to the solicitor, who examined it without any reaction, while the mitigator looked at him with a bemused smile.
That taken place, I gave the solicitor my account number so that neither he nor 'The Worst Center Agency', would have an excuse. We agreed to return at a later date to dispute the remainder as Ken's man said he only had permission to make the offer of 36,500 baht.
Now here's where it starts to get frustrating. Every remaining day of June I'm checking my account for the money until it's July. Yeah, that's right the crook of an agent still didn't pay me!
Once again we go to mitigation on 22nd September and return to the same office and yet again sit in the very same chairs with the same old gent of a mitigator. He was as surprised as we were that Ken's kamikaze style solicitor and Ken had failed to honour 'their' proposed agreement.
Five minutes later, Ken's solicitor was back in the same old stained shirt and the neck-tie he'd borrowed from Ronald Reagan.
He began by telling the mitigator that Ken no longer made a profit from the school where I'd worked and that sometimes he wasn't even able to pay his presently employed teachers. The mitigator smiled directly at him as he had before, with much bemusement in his eyes as someone who had perceived a dingo idiot!
The mitigator then looked at my daughter as an indication for her to translate the context of what the solicitor had just said - which she did. Next, Ken's man surmising that this theme wasn't working, decided to change his ploy. He went on if my client pays this claim, he's afraid that it will encourage other teachers to make a claim against him and his company.
When my daughter translated this to me, I nearly burst out laughing. Where did Ken find this bloke? He really was an absolute drongo! I began to feel sorry for him, like you do for people who are mentally dysfunctional.
After a long talk with the mitigator, the idiot was adamant that Ken didn't have the money to pay my claim and that he'd only be able to pay it over a period of ten months, at a minimum of 5,000 baht a month. At this point I intervened. There was no way I was going to trust Ken to make stage payments. The mitigator then gestured politely for the solicitor to leave the room.
Confidentially, he conveyed to us that if we took Ken to court, it would take a long time, however, if Ken's solicitor were to sign a carefully written paper with dates and instructions, which he the mitigator were to write, this would all be legally binding.
Furthermore, if Ken missed one payment, I could then bring the paper directly to The Labour Office and they'd then make arrangements to seize the outstanding amount from Ken's company.
Also, the mitigator was going to try and get them to settle the claim in eight months, as he felt that ten months was too long - eight payments of about 10,000 baht a month - the claim being 82,300 baht.
No, I said adamantly, "The claim is for 45,800 baht." He then explained that the two figures of 36,500 and 45,800 amounted to 82,500 baht!
With Ken's man came back in the room and understanding that he clearly wasn't going to budge on the ten months, I had another idea - what about the interest? It had now been about six months since I'd first made the claim so I was thinking that if we didn't add it, this might be an incentive for him to concede to eight months.
The mitigator asked my daughter to calculate it - explaining that it was a whopping 15% interest on 36,500, and a healthy 7.5% interest on 45,800, and that she should calculate it for twelve months. A grand total of 91,210 baht! Though of course, the idiot would not be swayed - it had to be paid over ten months.
I wanted to congratulate him on his stupidity, I'd unwittingly offered to take a loss of close on 9,000 baht; a week's pay for a little wait of two months but he wasn't having any of it. You have to like this bloke on some level.
Cut to the chase and on October 1st the dishonest, honorless Ken didn't honour the agreement once again, so back we went again to The Labour Office, who this time gave permission for me to instruct The Legal Execution Department to seize goods or we could have money taken from the company's bank account to value of the debt. Sounds great!
Can't wait to see how Ken and his mob wriggle their way out of this one.
Unfortunately, here's the rub, I have to find out where the company's assets are and come up with proof that they own them. The court doesn't even offer any advice, not so much as a subtle hint.
After speaking to a business guy I know called Irwin, a typical good-natured and well-intended American. Irwin advised me to get a detective. Apparently the information is out there and a good detective knows where to find the information; possibly on the internet.
So I engage the services of (private investigator) PI Natt, who soon finds two vehicles in the company's name, I then have to hand over 3,000 baht and she pays the police to check.
Another mellow kick in the teeth - both vehicles are in finance; they are wrapped up in hired purchase - which in Thai law means they cannot be touched.
The best part about it is one of these vehicles, an Isuzu 4-wheel drive jeep, was bought brand new, on 21st September 2016. That was six days after Ken had virtually pleaded poverty and shafted the five of us (EFL teachers) for half a month's salary.
Furthermore, the detective established that Ken's company do not own any property or land.
Next blind step in the dark - pay 11,500 baht to the PI to check The Best Center company's three bank accounts. After giving this a great deal of consideration over the past eight months or so, I have decided that it isn't worth the risk as I've already thrown enough good money after bad. After all, if the three accounts had less than 11,500 baht in I'd be out of pocket and back to square one.
Baffled, a little-pissed off, and extremely bewildered! The Thai Labour Court system works upon the principle that the debtor will honour the claimant's debt. And if they don't. . . . .
To conclude, and to answer my own question, a foreigner teacher's contract is worth whatever the debtor volunteers to pay his creditor - in my case not so much as twenty-five satang!