Vinalearn – A never ending series of utter lies

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When the new school year began approaching, I looked with all the delicious jobs on offer with relish. There were some great jobs with great salaries in areas all over Saigon. It was going to be great pickings this year, I thought. So in June, when a job was advertised by Vinalearn teaching primary school in District 12 I thought “Awesome. That’s exactly what I want”. The salary was pretty meagre. At around $16 an hour it was a big step down from the $22 an hour I was getting at my last agency, but hey… money isn’t everything, right ? If the conditions are good and the agency is professional I don’t mind that, I thought. Sixteen bucks an hour is still alright.. it’s in the form of a fixed contract where I could be required to do anything from 88 to 115 hours a month but I’ll get holiday pay and all that stuff, and of course it’s quoted in USD but paid in Vietnamese dong and the exchange rate is conveniently fixed by them every six months, and I know exactly what that means. But hey, if they seem like nice people, I’ll accept that.

So I went along to an interview. The interviewer was a Canadian guy named Joshua Godo. “That’s interesting” I thought, “Being interviewed by a foreigner”. He knew me too. As soon as I walked in he greeted me with “Hahah Mr Lyonz. Good to finally meet you. You’re a very funny guy online”. I thanked him nervously, hoping that was a positive thing that he knew me already. He assured me that it was. I went on to explain my teaching experience and he seemed thrilled. He insisted that since I had four years of teaching experience here and since I was very active in the teaching community running teaching websites that he really wanted me to work there. I explained to him some of the hassles that I’d been through at other companies, with disorganisation and every attempt possible to not deliver the things that were promised and he assured me that wouldn’t happen at Vinalearn. I told him that I specifically wanted to teach in government schools because they felt more like a family. He was pleased by this and said that he thought I’d be a great asset to Vinalearn and they really wanted me there. I met his boss, Phuong Ngo and the first thing she said to me was “Listen, at Vinalearn we don’t think of our teachers as staff. We think of them as family”. I felt like hugging her. This, I thought, was an agency I was going to be very happy working for.

Since the job wasn’t going to start until August I flew back to Australia to spend the winter months there, telling them I’d be back in mid-August as they requested to start work. In August they asked me to confirm that I was still coming and I assured them that I was and I had my ticket booked. But then Josh pushed my start date back. He said that I might not start in the classroom in August after all. But he said it was ok.. he really wanted my help in the office compiling lesson information and adding teaching resources to their database to make life easier for the teachers. That seemed very organised and helpful and even though I really wanted to be in the classroom teaching, if I was going to get paid to help organise resources, that was good enough.

I flew back in mid August as promised. I went into the office and met all the other teachers that Josh had recruited from overseas. He told me they were all getting their first month’s accommodation paid for. I felt quite left out that even though I’d flown in from overseas just like them, the offer did not extend to me because I already lived here. Oh well. At least I wouldn’t suffer a probationary period and a reduced salary for the first month like them, he promised. He told me how Vinalearn had tried to weasel out of paying this accommodation allowance for them though, promising them a month but then only wanting to pay them a week. I chuckled. I was glad I didn’t come here expecting that then. It would have been a real slap in the face to fly to a new country only to be told I wasn’t getting put up for a month like promised.

Then I was told that the “office work” would not be paid at the same rate. I would only be getting $600 a month for office work instead of the $1500 a month I would be getting in the classroom. Whoah.. that’s a big pay cut I thought. Since I’d been promised my salary would be paid regardless even if the job wasn’t ready yet, I was more than a little upset about that. I assumed “You’ll be paid regardless because you flew in for the job” would mean… you’ll still be paid the same, regardless. No… I guess not. Time to tighten that belt.

Then the office work didn’t materialise at all anyway. They gave it to the other fresh new teachers because they’d flown here for jobs that weren’t available. Even though I was supposed to be the rock star teacher and curriculum developer that Josh wanted to help out the school, now apparently they just didn’t want to pay me to sit around in the office at all. Oh well… I didn’t really want to do office work anyway, I thought. I’m a teacher not an administrator. Even though the job wasn’t due to start until September now, I still went in to sign the contract.

I was told I would be teaching high school. I said “I’m sorry, there must be some mistake. I was hired as a primary school teacher”. Miss Phuong said “We don’t have primary school work available”. I blinked at her in surprise and said “Well, I’m not teaching high school. The answer is no”. She looked at me dumbfounded. “What do you mean no ?” She asked. “We need our teachers to be flexible”. I screwed up my face wondering if there was something I wasn’t understanding. I repeated myself. “I’m sorry but no. I don’t teach high school. I won’t do it just because you need it. I applied for a primary school position, you offered it to me, and that’s what I’ll do. We agreed that I would teach primary school in District 12. That’s what you hired me for”. She went on to explain that unfortunately the contract with that school had fallen through. So I politely declined to sign their contract and went home.

How could they hire teachers back in June for schools that they didn’t even have contracts for, I thought. What sort of shady company makes people sign contracts for jobs they don’t even have ? I complained bitterly to Josh about it. I said that it was totally unacceptable to expect me to teach something totally different from what I’d been hired for. I said that it was totally unethical to make promises about jobs that they didn’t even have the contract for. He insisted that they would “try” and get me something close to what I was promised. I could teach a little bit of primary school in District 2, and they’d somehow work out the rest and maybe I could fill in a few days at a middle school. Ok, I thought. The boat has already sailed in terms of applying for other jobs now because the hiring season was already over. So I was stuck with Vinalearn. It was either accept what they had available or miss out and not have a job. I sighed and reluctantly accepted the job teaching in District 2 instead. I don’t mind traveling anyway so the location didn’t matter so much even though I did apply for a specific area and insisted I was firm about it… I could be flexible. And since I hadn’t moved to District 12 as planned when the job didn’t come about, District 2 was actually convenient anyway even though it was usually on my “No go” list.

I went in to sign the contract, even though I wasn’t due to start until the 7th of September now. When I read it I said “I’m sorry but there’s a mistake here. You want to cut my salary by $100 in the first month. Josh specifically assured me on a number of occasions that I absolutely would not have that happen to me because I’ve been here for years and you consider me an experienced teacher”. Miss Phuong looked at me levelly and said “No. I’m sorry. That applies to everyone. You will get a reduced salary for the first month”. “Well, then I’m not signing it sorry” I said. “But it’s only a hundred dollars” she said exasperated. I just raised one eyebrow at her and thought “Well then if it’s so little money, why can’t you pay it ?”. I politely said that I would consider it and get back to them the next day.

I went back home and demanded to know from Josh why he had promised me that I wouldn’t have a probationary period. I asked how he could promise me something that his bosses had not approved. He insisted that I absolutely would get it. “You will get your full salary or I will quit” were his exact words. “I won’t let them screw you”. I said “I’m sorry mate but if I don’t see that reflected in writing on the contract, which specifically says otherwise, then I don’t believe you. Miss Phuong was absolutely adamant that I would take a pay cut in the first month. She left absolutely no doubt about that”. He insisted that I was complaining about nothing and said the would guarantee it. “Yeah,” I said. “Well it looks like you’ve guaranteed a lot of things that haven’t worked out so far, so I’m not betting on it. No way. Not taking the job. You’re trying to screw me, and considering how much you’ve already screwed me, I don’t really find this particular gesture reassuring in any way. I thought teachers were family ?”

Obviously Josh spoke to Miss Phuong about it because the next day she messaged me saying “If we give you the full salary, will you sign ?” I wasn’t happy about it. I shouldn’t have had to fight this much just to get what I was promised all along. But despite my increasing uneasiness I wanted the job and it was too late to go searching for another one. I agreed.

When I reluctantly went into the office again, I was still in for more promises that would never eventuate. I was handed my schedule. I looked at it and said “This is barely more than half a week’s hours. I’m a full time teacher. How am I going to meet the required hours with this ?” “Don’t worry,” she assured me. “Your other school will begin on the 7th. But you can start at this job on the 1st. We’ll get you a timetable for the other school on the 7th soon”. “Are you sure ?” I demanded. She said “Yes”. I pushed further. “No, I mean are you REALLY sure this time ?”. She looked away for a moment and replied “We hope so”. “Ahh,” I said. “You don’t really have that contract, do you ?” She shook her head. “But we’ll find something else for you to do if it doesn’t work out. But we’re sure it will”.

You can imagine how enthused I was about yet another promise which was based on hopes and dreams and fairy dust and unicorns, but by this time I was sick of arguing about things. I just wanted to get to work. And I mean, realistically, how many things can possibly go wrong ? They can’t be that big a bunch of screw ups that another contract would fall through. I told Josh I wasn’t very happy about it. I felt like I had no job security when they didn’t have the contracts with the schools they were promising me jobs at and I’d flown in but been unable to work for weeks and money was running low. “Don’t worry about,” he assured me. “If you get short of money Vinalearn will be happy to help you out with a loan”. Ok, that’s fair, I thought. I’d had to fight hard to get my contract changed, and literally single thing this company had promised me had turned to dust, but surely they wouldn’t just let me walk out. Besides, it was pay day on the 5th and I started work on the 1st. I would get at least a week’s pay.

Except of course I didn’t. They had no desire to pay me for my first week at school because, you know.. since it was only a week before pay day, why pay me that month at all ? Surely I could wait until next month. I had to be FLEXIBLE, and flexible meant teaching for five weeks before getting paid. So I started teaching on the 1st of September but I didn’t get paid at all on pay day that month. I was to get paid the following month, five weeks after starting. I was still dirty over the fact that the other teachers had gotten their rent paid for them but I wasn’t getting that, nor would I get paid for my first week’s work until the following month, nor did I have a full schedule of hours, nor did I get the office work promised to tide me over, nor was I teaching in the district I wanted. But hey… maybe the school will be good.

It was. Nguyen Hien was an awesome school. It was modern and new and clean and the kids there were fantastic. I tried to put all the thoughts about the agency out of my head and focus on what mattered; the students. They were great. Very high level of English amongst some of them, although some other classes were terrible. Well, at least the school was great. That’s what matters the most.

Come the end of the first week of school I was down to my last $25. I messaged Josh to ask something about the school’s projectors and he assured me that he’d find out for me. I also mentioned that I wanted a $200 advance on my salary as he’d promised. He said I would have to speak to Phuong about it. Naturally when I spoke to her she said she’d have to speak to someone else about it. The following day I got the answer “We can lend you $100. Is that ok ?”

I thought about that for a moment. I tried to make my answer sound as direct as possible. I said “No. That’s not ok. You didn’t pay me this month and I can’t live for another month on $100”. She simply replied “Well that’s all we can offer you. If you want it, tell me when you’re coming in to get it”. I didn’t answer. I was supposed to have started at the other school by now. It was already a day past my start date. They didn’t get the contract. I knew why they didn’t want to advance me $200… because they knew that they didn’t have the job they promised for me and that I was likely to leave. If they paid me, I might very well just take the money and quit. I wasn’t going to make my required hours for the month because they simply didn’t have the work so my prospects of having enough money to live were quickly evaporating. No salary this month, no advance beyond a hundred bucks. Wow. This just keeps getting better. I felt like it was all a bad dream.

Then Josh messaged me and asked “Hey bud.. we really need another high school teacher to fill in for some morning classes. Can you ask your friends and see if anyone wants the job ? I’d really appreciate it”. I looked at the message bemused. I didn’t tell him that Phuong had rejected the salary advance I’d asked for that he assured me would be no problem at all. I went to my local street bar and told my friends what had happened. I told them that Vinalearn’s contract had again failed to materialise and I wasn’t going to make my hours for the month, that I hadn’t been paid that month and would have to wait another month and they didn’t want to lend me more than $100 to get me through.

One of them looked at me and said “Is this the same company that you told us was only giving you 5 sick days a year and they come out of your holidays ?” “Yes” I replied. “You do realise that’s actually illegal right ? The government mandates 12 sick days a year. Your company actually gives you none at all. They promise you 12 holidays and 5 sick days but the sick days come out of your holidays anyway. They’re violating labour laws and now you say they don’t pay you and their contract has fallen through. That’s the situation right ?”.

“That’s about the size of it, yes. So, are you interested in working for them ?”

“What do you think ?”

“I’ll tell them no”.

The next morning I woke up at a quarter to 6 in the morning with school books on the bed beside me and looked out the window at the pouring rain. I thought about my lack of sick days, the lack of the promised job that I was assured would come through, and most of all I thought about how they expected me to live on $100 for another month because paying me this month was just not worth their time. I was hoping to buy a new battery for my portable speaker that I use in the classroom but I wasn’t even going to be buying more than rice and water this month if I only had a hundred dollars to live on.

Unsurprisingly, I quit. I didn’t feel much like “family” at all.

I felt like I had been shafted every single way possible and that Vinalearn just promised things to people that they couldn’t deliver. They speculated on their need for teachers like it was the stock exchange. Every job they advertised for was based on “Maybe we’ll get lucky and get this contract. If not.. the teachers will just have to be flexible and wait around or take some other position”. Every single thing I’d been promised in terms of job, salary, financial assistance. All of it had turned out to be bullshit. Vinalearn never came good on a single promise. It was a pack of lies from day one. If that’s their idea of treating staff like “family” then I sure was glad I wasn’t related to them. At least you can quit a job. Although I won’t get a cent out of them even though it’s already past pay day and they owe me for my first week, there’s no way in hell I’ll get paid. No one ever gets paid when they quit. Contracts are only there to protect the company. It doesn’t matter if literally nothing in the contract materialises. You still can’t quit and expect to get paid. Your contract guarantees you’ll be an indentured servant. It doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get the work your were promised and hired for. It doesn’t guarantee that all the incidental things they promised will actually happen. While technically it was there in writing that I would be paid on the 5th of the month and I hadn’t been, was there any likelihood they would stand true to their own contract and pay me ? Not a chance.

Oh I learned something from you Vinalearn, that’s for sure. I learned that all the sweet words about treating staff like family don’t mean shit when you’re a company who peddles snake-oil, promising jobs that don’t exist and trying to weasel out of every little thing. It was a case of “Hi. Come work for us. We’re great. We’ll give you a good job and a contract with holidays and paid sick days and even pay your rent for a month” turning into “Yeah we’re not really going to do that. And there aren’t actually any paid sick days even though it’s mandated by law, and we don’t have the job we offered you at all. But hey.. be flexible ! Psst.. and by the way, we can’t pay you this month. But I’m sure next month is close enough, right ?”

Wrong. Your litany of lies is unacceptable Vinalearn. You break laws, you don’t pay staff, and you promise jobs you don’t have and then do everything you can to make it clear that employees are definitely not family. Unless you treat your family really, really badly. I’m leaving this “family” thanks. “Learn to reach your dreams” is Vinalearn’s motto. Well I dreamed small. All I dreamed about was doing the job I was hired for and getting paid for it. I guess I didn’t reach that dream.

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2 Responses to Vinalearn – A never ending series of utter lies

  1. Can I simply just say what a relief to uncover someone who
    genuinely knows what they are discussing over the internet.
    You certainly realize how to bring a problem to light and make it important.

    More people must look at this and understand this
    side of the story. I was surprised that you aren’t more popular since you definitely possess the gift.

  2. relieved says:

    thanks. i just sent my CV to them (after a few beers). normally i check for reviews first, but I wanted to feel proactive for a change. I’ll go back to checking reviews first. I’m in no financial state to risk being screwed. Thank you for your words – person I’ll likely never meet but who may have saved me lots of grief ;)

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