Fri, Jul 23, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Teacher fighting NT$20,000 penalty


Authorities are urging foreign English teachers to be aware of the terms before they sign contracts with cram schools (also known as bushibans) after a recent contract dispute between a teacher and a school in Tainan County.

In April of this year, Susan Tombs, a Briton working as an English teacher in Tainan County signed a one-year contract with a bushiban. The school's contract contained a clause which imposed a NT$20,000 fine if the teacher did not complete the contract. Early last month, Tombs quit her job after the school reduced her hours, and also because she was not satisfied with the working conditions at the school. On July 1, Tombs was told by her employer that she would be penalized NT$20,000 for breaching the contract. After digging up information about Taiwan's labor laws, Tombs discovered that Article 26 of the Labor Standards Act (勞基法) states that an employer shall not take any advance deduction of wages for punitive damages.

Tombs then approached Tainan County Government's Bureau of Labor, where she was told an arbitration court hearing could be set up through the bureau free of charge.

"I have talked to both Tombs and her employer regarding their dispute. The contract did state that should Tombs not fulfill one year of service at the school, she would have to pay a fine of NT$20,000," Chang Li-huei (張麗惠), an official at bureau's foreign labor department, said.

"If [Tombs] wants to dispute the terms of the contract, she can go through an arbitration hearing with the bureau. I gave Tombs the relevant paperwork, but I have not seen the papers since," she said.

Tombs said that she would pursue arbitration, but hopes her visa, which expires in two weeks, would last till the arbitration.

"I have decided to go ahead with the arbitration hearing but do not know if my visa deadline will allow me to attend," she said.

"I do not know how to go about applying for arbitration since all documents are in Chinese," Tombs added.

According to a staff member at the school, Tombs has been told that she could pick up her check at any time, but the NT$20,000 fine will be deducted.

"It was Tombs' decision to sign the contract, which included the clause regarding the penalty. We are willing to give Tombs her check -- minus the NT$20,000 penalty -- but she refuses to take it," the staff member said.

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