When the bells rang to usher in 2010 all over the world, there was special jubilation in Shanghai. Following the success of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China is poised for another world celebration - the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.
But for a group of expatriate teachers in the glamorous, glitzy city New Year’s Eve was a subdued affair.
These teachers, representing Australia, UK and the United States, are part of the flotsam left floating around the wreck of a business partnership between a Shanghai construction company and two Irishmen with their eyes to the main chance, Ken Carroll and Brian McCloskey.
The Company, KaiEn, an English language school which for 13 years had been a trusted name in Shanghai, folded ignominiously on payday a week before Christmas.
However, under Chinese law, no foreigner entrepreneurs can register a business without the co-operation of a Chinese partner.
So when teachers reported for work to find that McCloskey, Carroll and all their salaries had fled the country, the full impact of their plight still hadn’t hit home.
At first all went, if not well, at least hopefully. The Chinese partner, unearthed by a sympathetic media, appeared to negotiate with the foreign teachers; local (Chinese) staff were paid out by the Labour Board with compensation to boot; students were reassured that their interests would be protected and a payment of 30 per cent of one month of each foreign teacher’s salary - not quite enough to settle outstanding rent or utilities, but enough to eat from - was paid out.
The press took their cameras and retreated to look for another story, the Chinese teachers moved on - but the foreign teachers have been left in limbo ever since.
Under Chinese law it is the employers who are responsible for their employee's Working Visas. It is also the employer who must prepare and deliver a Letter of Release to employees before they can legally be re-employed.
Neither McCloskey, Carroll nor the somewhat shady “investor” from Singapore, Alex Wee, stopped long enough to alert anyone of their departure date, let alone sign Letters of Release or make visa provisions. Under Chinese law, it is now the duty of the listed partners to do so.
The Chinese partners however, refuse to sign anything.
Even the part-payments given out were unsigned. Teachers noted, rather ominously, that the receipts which accompanied the small percentage of the money to which they were indeed contractually entitled, refers to it as a “loan”. As the purpose of a loan is that it is returned in full this has led to much uneasiness.
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