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Why I don’t believe John

Over at POC, Cocoy writes about the plight of John de la Cruz, effective framing the piece via the title: “Why Filipinos shouldn’t work in Vietnam.” Having once been offered precisely that opportunity, I was naturally curious. But what I was hoping would be a rational piece explaining why employment in Vietnam would be a bad idea for the descendants of Jose Rizal, turned out to be nothing more than an exercise in jingoistic chest beating.

John de la Cruz – in case you didn’t get it the first time around, Juan de la Cruz – claims to have been “unjustly” terminated and complains to the Philippine Ambassador to Vietnam. Presumably – the piece doesn’t provide a lot of background information – he did so seeking legal assistance to pursue his claim against his employer. Again presumably, this claim included a recitation of his employer’s “many violations.” What those violations are, the piece forgets to detail.

Anyway, as it turns out, the employer actually replies:

“He wants all things at GLN have to follow him, even me,” Bui Thi Le Hang wrote. She goes on. “He didn’t respect my request/ email. He always said that I am so nice with everyone. Yes, I am nice and patient enough to work but I am too headache to listening complaints about his behavior from our Branch Manager. Once customers complaint about his teaching style, we gave this comments to him and he started to fight with our students, this behavior made our students scare to study with him and they had asked to change to other class or change to other teacher many times. Some students even not returned to continue their study with him even their tuition fee still left. We have lost a lot of customer due to this behavior but he never accepts or agrees that it’s because of his service, he will blame because of our staffs or our student. Therefore, it’s really dangerous to giving him a class. We had reduced this risky by offer him a position as Head teacher as his request and our Academic Manager’s request but his behavior still not change.

Moreover, he refused to work on Sunday as in the contract, this day he should work from Sunday to Friday. Although he used to beg for this favor from me, I did not agree with that but he always said to staffs/Branch Manager he worked with me already and I agreed. He only worked on Sunday if we have marketing events/workshop. In addition to this, he also refused to work at Nguyen Thi Dinh branch as our request.”

Breaking that down, the Vietnamese employer seems to be complaining, first, that Johnny didn’t go what he was asked; second, that Johnny had been complained about by the employer’s branch manager, and the school’s students; third, that confronted with these complaints, Johnny had tried to pass the blame on to other staff and had actually taken it out on the students and that some students had actually packed up and left the school because of him; fourth, that, confoundingly, Johnny had actually been given the position of Head Teacher but that the promotion had not mellowed him out; and fifth, that he refused to work Sundays, even if it was in his contract.

In reply, Johnny wrote the Ambassador.

Dela Cruz argued in his letter to Ambassador Santos that he did not refuse the work. He simply wished that the class be moved to his branch.

“I was the Head Teacher at the main branch and I had a lot of duties. I did not refuse the class, I wanted it moved to my branch where I work because since my contract ends in May, I wanted to have the opportunity to train the teachers, and I had other responsibilities in my branch given to me by the Owner/BOD: Ms. Bui Thi Le Hang, and Senior Admissions Officer: Ha Thuc Dieu Linh.”

In his letter to the ambassador, dela Cruz wrote many alleged violations of GLN English Learning Center. In July 2010, according to Dela Cruz, General Manager Bui Thi Le Hang ordered then Tran Dai Nghia Branch Manager Hoang Nhung to forcibly take the Philippine passport of one Filipina teacher there. In the same year an electrical fire broke out at the Nguen Thi Dinh branch. According to his account, there were no fire extinguishers and no fire safety procedures in place, which he said was in violation of the Vietnam’s Labor Code. According to him, there were still no fire extinguishers when he left their employ.

According to Dela Cruz, on February 21, 2013, at 2pm, a meeting was held at GLN’s Head Office. GLN’s HR Manager Nguyen Thi Lan Huong and Keangnam Senior Admissions Officer Ha Thuc Dieu Linh represented the company. The Philippine Consul joined dela Cruz in that meeting. The Human Resources Manager, according to dela Cruz talked about his poor performance.

Dela Cruz countered with an annual performance appraisal letter, congratulating him of his achievements and a hand written note from the General Manager over New Year’s saying that she liked how dela Cruz “strictly follow rules and regulations”. Dela Cruz argued that there were no official records of complaint filed against him by students. Dela Cruz claims that the company falsified public documents. Dela Cruz said his work visa was for “Business Staff”, but his contract stated that he was an “ESL Teacher”.

So, Johnny’s response to the five points raised by his employer?

  1. That he did not refuse the Sunday class, but that he had wanted it moved to the branch where he was.
  2. That his employer were guilty of many violations, although he specified only two: the taking of the passport of one of the Filipina teachers, and the lack of fire extinguishers in the place.
  3. That, in response to allegations of poor performance, he had a positive annual performance appraisal letter and a hand-written note from the General Manager saying that she liked him being a stickler for the rules.
  4. That there was no official record of complaints filed against him; and
  5. That his contract called him an “ESL Teacher” but his work visa said “Business Staff,” and that therefore, his employer was guilty of falsifying public records.

In a Skype chat, the piece reports, Johnny goes on to drop the statement that the owner “explicitly said” that she can hire Filipinos anytime, and that she once refused to see the Filipino consul.

All of this, of course, goes to the argument that Filipinos are – as Johnny said – brutalized, mistreated by Vietnamese employers, and therefore, Vietnamese employers should be prevented from hiring Filipinos.

Whoa, right?

First of all, shouldn’t we ask Johnny why the company had to move the class to his branch, just because he said so? And if the company refused to do as he said, would that refusal justify anything other than his compliance with the terms of his contract? I can think of several reasons why the company would refuse to move a class from one branch to another, but at the top of that list would be the students. Why should one teacher’s preference be paramount over the paying clientele’s convenience?

Second, the employer’s behavior – for which we only have Johnny’s word, btw – towards any other Filipino employee, is hardly a justifiable reason for Johnny to be anything less than a good employee himself. Neither is the absence of fire extinguishers a good excuse. Seriously, if the working conditions made him that uncomfortable, Johnny should have just upped and left. But he didn’t, did he?

Third, a positive annual performance appraisal letter doesn’t guarantee that an employee will always be a model employee. In fact, the usual track is for people to start out spectacularly and for performance to dip over time, as things like ennui or complacency creep in. At best, this claim by Johnny only proves that he had at least one good year with the company – a situation not incompatible with a later deterioration of his desirability.

Fourth, the fact that there were no official records of complaints against him proves squat. For one thing, any description of the character traits of Vietnamese will include assertions that they are timid, polite, easily frightened – remember how his employer said “[his] behavior made our students scare to study with him?” – and not very self-confident, preferring instead the strength that comes from collective action. None of these character traits would seem to predispose to the filing of official complaints against a person in authority. In other words, the absence of such complaints seems, in fact, inevitable.

And fifth, I can’t help but wonder why he didn’t bring up the disparity in job titles earlier. Also, there seems to be no great difference between business staff and esl teacher, with the former being a more generic description of his relationship to his employer, and the latter being a more specific designation of his duties within the business. And besides, what the heck does any of that have to do with his termination???

As for the claims he made via Skype – presumably talking with the author of the piece, or at least someone already predisposed to accepting his sob story – about how Filipinos can be hired anytime, well, don’t we go to Vietnam to work? How is this particularly offensive? In a similar vein, are we supposed to get all offended when a foreign national, on her native soil, refuses to see our diplomat? While it may have been bad manners for his employer to not come out to see the consul, can that snub really be significant to the question of whether he was unlawfully terminated?

Hardly.

Reading this piece, which intrinsically exhorts a kind of stop deployment order for Vietnam and is marketed on Twitter as a call for Filipinos to avoid employment in Vietnam on the basis of one disgruntled employee’s largely incoherent claims of unfair treatment, I imagine that the more responsible take would be an attempt to discover whether the 30-day notice requirement was actually complied with. But then again, this didn’t seem to be the goal in the first place.

Instead, this piece clearly set out to portray the Filipino as a victim, once again; tapping into the collective outrage at Filipinos being mistreated as a kind of shortcut to generating support for this particular Filipino. Better by far to have just avoided the victim card altogether.

So why don’t I believe John? I don’t believe him because he – and the author of this piece – seems content to just paint a picture of himself as an oppressed Filipino without bothering to clearly and definitively debunk the accusations against him. That’s lazy and it doesn’t do justice to all the other Filipinos who, by hard work and integrity, have made it abroad.

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Filed under: Filipino, international, ,

One Response

  1. Scott says:

    I was John’s direct manager when this occurred. He was always hard working, but the owner always wanted more for less. The real reason for his termination was that he asked for a meeting to discuss changes to the contract which were going to impact all teachers working for GLN. As he actually worked so well, the only thing they could fault him on was when he asked for the class to be moved due to his heavy workload.

    It is not only Filipinos who were mistreated by GLN, I’m Australian and I’m still owed thousands of dollars in unpaid overtime.

    Even though you may doubt him, I was there and saw it all.
    I really don’t understand why you feel the need to attack someone who has been wronged.

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