NETs claim they were pressured to work illegally without visas

Liz Gooch

Teachers' representative says three had to start on an unpaid basis but EMB says it failed to find evidence of the practice

A number of native English-speaking teachers have had to work without pay while waiting for employment visas, in breach of immigration law and leaving them out of pocket, according to a NET who mentors newly-arrived teachers.

Des Moriarty, a secondary school NET, said he knew three teachers who had started work without employment visas.

A teacher, who did not want to be named, said his school pressured him to work on an unpaid basis for five days before his visa arrived. 'It came down to either I come in and volunteer or the job will not be available,' he said.

The Immigration Department confirmed that an employment visa was needed before a person could perform paid or unpaid work.

The teacher, who changed schools over the summer holidays, said he had not received any pay for the time he worked without a visa. 'I was expected to perform the full duties of a teacher who was employed in the school,' he said.'I was asked to volunteer for those days but the school hasn't paid me for them.'

Mr Moriarty, who raised the issue with the Education and Manpower Bureau last week, said the teachers had been at risk of prosecution and were not covered by work site insurance while they were working without an employment visa.

He said he knew of at least three teachers who had been in a similar situation last year. They had been told they would be paid later. Two had been given extra leave but no payment was ever made, he said.

Assistant secretary for education and manpower Raymond Sy said the bureau had investigated the cases. 'Based on the information and evidence presented by individual NETs and school heads concerned, it was concluded the allegations of illegal employment were unfounded,' Mr Sy said.

Some NETs had confirmed to the EMB they had 'volunteered' to do some after-school work. This was voluntary, not unpaid. 'I'm not in a position to confirm whether it's illegal or legal,' he said.

'The EMB has zero tolerance to illegal employment and we have already issued directives . . . to school heads as well as information to NETs about the need to obtain valid employment visas before taking up paid work in schools.'

If teachers had genuine concerns about illegal employment the EMB urged them to contact immigration authorities.

But Mr Moriarty said the EMB had admitted a NET had worked 'in an unpaid capacity doing tasks such as yard duty, taking examinations and supervising students'. He said the bureau and some principals failed to give NETs sufficient time to make the necessary arrangements before starting work. In some cases NETs received their contracts three days before they were expected to start.

Michael Eckford, liaison representative for the Native English Speaking Teachers' Association, said the NETs should be paid for the work they had done: 'This is a terrible situation to put people in, where they work and are not paid but feel they have to work.'