Sam Thompson

Choosing the right employer

The joys of working for a teacher agency


We've all heard horror stories about working for terrible agencies in Thailand and other countries. Well, as I have mentioned in the past, I had the opportunity to experience such an agency first-hand. Not anymore, of course, being that I was fired from the agency for no reason about a month ago, but I did make almost an entire semester.

Actually, I exaggerate. I wouldn't say I have a "horror story" per se, but rather a three-ringed circus. I found the whole ordeal quite amusing for the most part, although the never getting paid on time or the correct amount, along with the constant harassing emails from whom I can only assume to be a mentally imbalanced employer did get a bit tiresome by the end. I won't name specific agencies because I'm not trying to finger point or name stain; I just figured that I'd throw out a few warning signs to other potential noobs (nerd talk for newbie) teachers like I was.

First, I do have a few friends working for agencies that have no problems with them. And to those new in the teaching field, agencies are among the easiest to get jobs with when you're first starting off. Hiring directly with government schools, language schools, and international schools almost always want some kind of experience on your resume, whereas the few agencies I interviewed with last year didn't seem to have this as a priority. So, working for a decent agency can rid you of the catch-22 problem of needing to get experience to have it on a resume.

That said, if you have the time or ability, it's certainly worth looking around online and through friends for reviews of the agency with which you interview and/or get offered a job. If I had of done this when I started, I would have found more than a few scathing reviews of the agency I signed on with and several of its aliases. Note here: I've heard tell of other agencies doing like mine in this regard in the Bangkok area as well, using several different names to advertise for the same company to deter name recognition. Very clever, I'll hand it to them. So, even if you're a new teacher, don't just jump at the very first opportunity you get. If you're a confident teacher, there's certainly no harm in telling someone you'll get back to them. Unless you're truly desperate, try to at least arrange a second interview before signing.

If you do sign a contract, note a few things. First, from what I'm told, Thai-written contracts are the only truly valid documents in the courts here. I could be wrong, but from everyone I've asked, if there are two versions of your contract (English and Thai), the Thai one takes precedence. I note this because after I started, not only did my employer change parts of my English contract AFTER I had signed it (namely our pay date and an extra page of stipulations), but I later found out that the Thai version of my contract - which I foolishly signed - had all kinds of different things that I didn't even know existed.

One such amusing stipulation that I found out was on the Thai contract was that if I in "any way" harmed the reputation of my school or agency, or incurred any kinds of physical or intellectual damages, I was liable to pay the agency some ridiculous compensation which had an interest rate applied to it. Obviously, had I known that was on the contract I was signing, I would have laughed and walked out. But hey, naivety got the best of me, and my employer seemed trustworthy upon the first meeting.

Next, if you do take the job, note the attitudes of any teachers who have been with the agency/company for any period of time before. This isn't always reliable, as you'll always have the sourpuss teachers who can't be happy with anything, but veteran teachers' attitudes towards their agency can give you a hint for what you're in for. The very first day of my last semester, for example, the two teachers out of seven who carried over had some interesting stories to tell about those that the "new crop" of us were replacing. And, funny enough, the very same things that happened to our predecessors (not getting paid, harassing calls and emails, etc.) happened to us.

My final piece of advice: while any employer may offer you a work permit, be realistic about it. Agencies exist because there is typically a high teacher turnover, and someone has to deal with the hiring of new ones fairly frequently. Getting a work permit is a rather tedious process. People are lazy. Add these things together, and you can understand why getting a work permit may be something that never happens for you. And, without a work permit, even if your employer does abuse you in some way, you have absolutely no legal rights in Thailand... because, technically, you're working illegally.

I certainly can see the point in agencies. If managed correctly, they can use the fee they get from your salary from the school to free the school from worrying about substitutes, legal paperwork, and school materials. But obviously this isn't always what happens. It's not only unfair to you as the employer, but also the students and other teachers of the school you're working at. While I stuck it out at my school (even after getting fired) out of regard for my students and colleagues, it's certainly not something everyone would be willing OR able to do.

Luckily for me, due to our loyalty to our school, we are being hired on directly next semester without the agency. But this will certainly not always be the case. Am I bitter about my semester with an agency that still owes me over 15,000 baht, didn't pay on time a single time, never paid the correct amount, sent threatening emails on at least a weekly basis, and eventually fired me when they realized the school I was working at actually liked me (thereby degrading the agency's power)? Believe it or not, no. Because without this experience, I'd probably be just as naive as I was six months ago.

But would I do it again? Absolutely not.




Comments

VERY well written article. Well balanced and fair.

The only thing I would take exception to is the author's comment "And, without a work permit, even if your employer does abuse you in some way, you have absolutely no legal rights in Thailand... because, technically, you're working illegally."

Technically speaking, strictly from a legal point of view, that's not true. It is the employer's responsibility, not the employee's, to procure a valid work permit for each and every employee that works for more than 10 hours per week, on average, contracted or not. If the employee can prove that they have provided their employer with everything the employer needs to get a valid work permit and the employer has no "good" reason that they failed to do so, the employer is in trouble, not the employee.

Whether or not an employee has a valid work permit, they still enjoy protection under the law, against unfair treatment by an employer. So a teacher shouldn't worry about taking an employer to court, because the employer never got a work permit for them. If anything, the mere threat of a lawsuit, merely for failing to do what the law requires the employer to do, and the resultant bad publicity with the client school, wold probably be more than enough to get the employer to do the right thing, whatever that might be, to keep it out of court.

Urban legends about the heinous, cruel, completely unfair Thai labor court system, aside, my personal experience, as a volunteer interpreter in the Thai Labor Law Courts of Bangkok have proven to me that most of the judges are reasonable, fair people who respond well to other reasonable, fair people.

Again, good article.

By Jason Alavi, Rangsit (31st May 2013)

And this website should be ashamed allowing this disreputable cheating agency to advertise again for teachers, Its there again. If there is any care or respect for teachers it should be removed by this website

By Sean T, Bangkok (18th April 2013)

Hi!

Very sorry to hear that sad story.
I myself run a teaching agency here in Bangkok and can't see the need to treat people in this manner.
It gives your company name a bad rep, not only with teachers but in the end with schools also.
I also see stories about agencies charging around 45 to 50 thousand and only paying teachers 30 thousand.
Don't know how true that is though it could just be sour teachers bad mouthing. We don't charge any where near that much

Please don't give us all the same bad name though some of us are genuine, I work very hard to keep my schools and teachers happy most days I don't even get time for lunch because i'm too busy taking care of teachers needs or the schools needs.

Regards to all

Steve

By stephen ablett, SamutPrakan (8th April 2013)

The reason you don't get work permits is because each area has it's own labour department, so only the school can get you one, but seeing as you work for an agency probably in a different area no chance,those are the facts don't be fooled by agency promises!

By Stephen Carley, Thailand (7th April 2013)

"waiting for the story message send 4 hours ago , of another teacher at the same school experience, Not wanna show it then?"

Are you aiming that comment at me Sean? If you are, I'm currently on holiday in France so a) I'm five hours behind Thailand and b) I'm on holiday.

By philip, (7th April 2013)

waiting for the story message send 4 hours ago , of another teacher at the same school experience, Not wanna show it then?

By Sean T, Bangkok (7th April 2013)

Ahh, so Sam continued working at the school, (which many of us know) even after getting fired? Must have had some abuse from the Psycho agency "owner "who alot of have had experience of, AND are owed far more than 15000 baht. I wonder if he threatened you with the local police for "trespassing on the school property" He's good at threats. Very fortunate to get employed by the school directly . Some of us never had that option.

By Sean T, Bangkok (7th April 2013)

Your story unfortunately is typical of teacher placement agencies here in Thailand which is why they have such a bad reputation here. It still amazes me that nothing is done and these type of agencies are allowed to stay in business, I guess they pay off the right people to be able to do that. Anyhow glad to hear your story ended on a good note, good luck.

By Thomas, Thailand (5th April 2013)

The thing about work permits and visas is that it's up to the employer to require them. The ball is in their court to make it all happen or not. I've found that most employers are not willing to do the work or to pay for the process and it's expensive. I feel that if they require it AND they have the authority to cancel both your work permit and your visa, THEY should be the ones to pay and NOT the teacher. Who wants to put out all that money and go through the hassle if things go south only to have their employer turn around and cancel everything a week or so after you get them? The only reason why Thailand gets away with all of this mistreatment of teachers is that there is a global financial crisis and too many desperate teachers in Thailand. So teachers get treated like dirt.

By Lisa, (5th April 2013)

And while everyone says never again, it still continues. As with education and teaching it is same old same old. It never changes. They always find someone to work for them who swears it will never happen to them again, as the agencies continue oblivious. They couldn't care less because they know they are going to get some mug to lap up it for a year or a semester.

By Mavin, Bangkok (4th April 2013)

Thanks for the article.
Unfortunately, the two recruiters I've found so far in BKK ( I did a short stint for one before seeing how they operated) have both given me the creeps and are easy to find complaints on.

So, could someone recommend a decent, non-thieving recruiter for Thailand? Please feel free to email me at
tidesout1@yahoo.com

Confidential of course.

By tidesout, Bangkok (4th April 2013)

Heard this story a dozen or more times. It's sad that these places are still around. The using several names does work for them, but with a little investigating this can be found out. I am lucky to never have worked for an agency. I hope everything works out for you in the future. Good luck.

By Ron, Bangkok (4th April 2013)

Good advice Sam. Had a similar thing happen to me.

By Brian, China (4th April 2013)

What I hate about this situation is the lack of avenues we teachers have in terms of getting even. When I say getting even I mean here we are on a teaching forum / website and we are unable to name and shame these scumbags because they advertise here. I have brought this up with Phil and I understand his position regarding this site as advertising jobs is his bread and butter so to speak.

I think though it should be a reasonable expectation to allow teachers to name and shame these agencies without Phil losing business. I will be looking into forming some kind of forum to allow teachers to say what has happened without fear and it will happen this year because I truly feel enough is enough.

By Dave, Bangkok (4th April 2013)

While I stuck it out at my school (even after getting fired) out of regard for my students and colleagues...

So they weren't paying you? Are you serious?

By angsta, Deepest Issan (3rd April 2013)

I know exactly who this is and I am shocked they are still around doing the exact same thing!! I've been through exactly this already. It's a shame because the schools rarely know that they are hiring despicable people before its too late and the drama ensues.

By Cat Haas, Bangkok (3rd April 2013)

Greedy employers, direct or indirect, continue to proliferate everywhere in this world. In the end, they will never succeed.

By Sensei Aijin, (3rd April 2013)

Good points Sam. Don't forget to do your due diligence when looking for a job. It would help others if you could name the agency who ripped you off. It's too bad half of the job sponsors on ajarn.com fall into the suspect employer category.

By Alan, Bangkok (3rd April 2013)

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