A couple of months back I changed my job, and as Bruce Willis would say on one of his die hard moments – ‘Yippee Kai yay’ – and it was on March the 15th that I gleefully hopped and skipped out of the English teaching profession once and
for all. As fast as my little leggies would take me, I hopped and skipped out of the school gate along with all the other hopping and skipping happy go lucky kiddies who somehow managed to get caught on extra school projects. So of we went away
together, the kids on their way for their summer escape and me on my way to a new adventure into a world of professional adults.
I had a couple of weeks to kill before I started my new career and was quite relaxed because the agreement I had with my old school agency and the school was that I could keep hold of my work permit until May 31st in order to allow me to get myself together and to either inform the school that I was coming back (as if) or to go off and secure myself a new work permit where ever it was I was ambling of to with great haste and speed.
Now before I left I decided to do ‘a little’ research and I even spoke to the visa guru via the Ajarn website about my options but I am going to admit right now that this was my first time doing one of these change over job sort of thingies and so was not totally 100% sure of what I was doing. Despite the visa Gurus comments about what I could do (maybe I wasn’t clear enough when I e-mailed him) I still felt that I wasn’t totally clued in to the process and all the information I could find was ambiguous at best, but sometimes you have just got to wade in and learn these things for yourself, which is ultimately what I ended up doing. I did know that ‘in theory at least’ I and the school should have told the labour office the minute the contract was up in order to give me the oh so generous 7 days to get out and do a visa run to the border, but as we (meaning, me, the school and the agency) all had this little gentle persons agreement that they wouldn’t say anything if I didn’t sort of thing, so I just sat back, did the Thai thing and put on my blinkers and enjoyed the moment of tranquility and peace for two weeks and decided to just pretend that it would all work out in the end once I started my new job.
In the mean time, all of the other guys I had been working with at the school where simply laughing their smug little socks off because I was the only one on the team who had managed to get a work permit with the school; the rest where either wallowing in a visa under another agency and so where immune to the hormonal changes and whims of the school or where doing the usual tourist visa runs every month and although they had this monthly event to contend with, they didn’t have the hassle I did of making sure I had receipts for paying tax, securing a new annual visa and doing the work permit 7 yard dash that the ministry of labour allowed you.
Anyway, two weeks came and went and in early April I started my new job… life was good and I felt relaxed and started getting into the swing of things, when…
My Secretary: “Excuse me Casanundra, but I need your tax receipt and a receipt from the labour office to say you have given up your old work permit”
Me: “eh? Can’t I just give you my work permit and you just extend it with a new stamp in the page?”
My Secretary: “Sorry no can do… if you read your work permit; you will see that it is restricted to one work place. If you change your workplace then you have to change your work permit too. So you will need to go to the labour office, hand in your old work permit, get a receipt, then come back here, give me the receipt and it goes with the paperwork we submit for the new work permit”
Me: “Oh… um erm um erm… alrighty then, I’ll pop right along tomorrow and get it sorted”
I dig out my blue work permit and read it a little more carefully. No actually, I will re-state that, I read it for the first time in 12 months. I am confused, least of all because it’s mainly written in Thai but there are pages in there that state something along the lines of ‘describe your new job title and job role’ which with my logical brain implies that it allows you to change jobs… but then I look again… and yes although it does allow you to change jobs and titles etc… it only allows it if you stay in the same company… ahhhh soooo pigsy, I understand the nonsense a little better now.
So the next day, and feeling a slight change in the wind that things aren’t quite going to be as simple as I hoped, I cajoled the wife into taking a detour to Din Deang and the labour office because I needed my hand holding. We where the first to arrive and simply waltzed through into the back office to relinquish my work permit. We pick a form and a number and where told to just sit down as there was no queue to wait in. So I filled in the form and put in a date for the previous day as my date of leaving the school.
The girl dealing with us was professional, curt, and official. This was fine because she was just doing her job and unfortunately for me, she was doing it well. She asked in Thai: “Can you tell me why your date is 2 weeks after the school term officially stopped?” She knew that all over Thailand, the general school term stopped on the 15th March as this was the standard finish date for a school term.
I started mentally damning myself for not foreseeing this minor point of logical reasoning, and whilst pointing with a stubby finger at the date in the work permit book, I stammer in with my best English accent: “Well old bean, it’s like this, you see…”
The Wife interrupts me and rattles one off in Thai: “Erm, I understand that the date on his work permit expires on the 31st May and as per his contract he is now just giving his notice to leave the school because he needs a receipt for his new…”
The Labour office clerk sticks up her hand to indicate that the wife has said quite enough and interrupts with: “ah yes, you are right, but the work permit was with the school and not the agency and as the school finished on the 15th March then so did the work permit”
The Labour office clerk continuing on in Thai: “I quite understand the confusion. Tell me, has the school agreed and given permission for you to leave your job?”
Me: “Errr… I wasn’t aware I needed their permission. They do know however that I am leaving…”
The Labour office clerk: “Yes, but have they notified us?”
Me: “I have no idea; the school is now closed for the summer. Don’t you have anything on your records?”
The Labour office clerk sighs and turns around to some bloke behind her and rattles of in Thai for him to check his computer records.
In the mean time, I take on a frowned bulldog look as my forehead scrumples up as I start to think things logically though and try to find a way to peddle furiously through this little minefield she has just laid out in front of me. You see, as I sit there with my forehead in desperate need of a botox injection, I look down through the Perspex on her table and notice two sheets of paper written in Thai. My reading of Thai is crap at the best of times but it is quite obvious that the first one points out that the school has 14 days to notify the labour office of an employee leaving the school and the other states that the employee has 7 days to notify the labour office of leaving the school. Both bits of paper imply that there is a fine for failure on both parties to do so with the fine for me being if I recall about 1000 baht, and I cannot for the life of me remember what the one was for the school.
I think to myself… ‘yeah ok, that part is my 7 days notice period which I am aware of but the 14 days one from the school doesn’t make much sense, especially in light of her just saying that I need to have permission to leave the school and that the labour office also needs to be informed of this by the school before they let me relinquish my work permit. Surely if this is the case, then shouldn’t the school have to inform the labour office at the same time or before the employee does to avoid confusion?’ Perhaps I was just thinking too logically, and we all know that logic and Thai’s and women all in the same sentence together just don’t mix.
The labour office clerk turns back around after having a grunt and a mumble in with the computer guy and informs me that the answer is in the negative, in that the school hasn’t told them yet of my intention to leave and as a consequence, they cannot just accept my declared leaving date without confirmation from the school. So me being me, I pipe up with a question for clarity.
Me: “Errr excuse me, but according to your sign here” [I point through the Perspex on her table] “It says that the school has 14 days to inform you that I have left their employ, is this correct”
The Labour office clerk: “kaa…”
Me: “ok… and the other one there” [I point again] “states that as the employee, that I only have 7 days to inform you… is this also correct?”
The Labour office clerk looks at me like I am an idiot: “kaa…”
Me: “Hmmm ok… well I am sorry to say but I am confused. Perhaps my understanding of quantum physics and the theory of relativity is slightly off, but how am I to get a school to inform you that I have gainfully left their employ when they have 14 days in which to inform you when I only get 7 days to do so if let’s assume the school decides to wait until the 14th day to advise you and that I only have 7 days in which to do so. Am I assuming then, based on what you have just said, that you cannot let me relinquish my work without the school informing you first? Is it just me or does something not quite make sense with this?”
I look up at the wife and the Labour office clerk and see two goldfish gaping back with HUGE exclamation marks over their heads. The Labour office clerk then decides that she doesn’t want to be associated with this now known system bucking criminal called Casanundra anymore and proceeds instead to pretend that I no longer exist and simply just ignores me from this moment on. Fortunately the wife is allowed some sympathy because she is Thai and obviously didn’t know about my sinister process bucking ways and as such was still allowed to communicate with her.
She says to the wife: “You are quite correct, and I agree with you that you are doing the right thing of informing us within 7 days of when it was believed that the school had been left… unfortunately I now need to call in my manager to resolve this”
I was in awe at this point on how she managed to have this conversation with abject avoidance of including a single word that made any reference to me. The ‘you’ she used was aimed at my wife as I no longer existed.
She then calls the manager over who swans on in with a flamboyant air of superiority and takes a good hard look at me over her half rimmed glasses and with a wry smile on her face, picks up my work permit and asks: “What class did you teach at so and so school?”
Me: [Slightly surprised at this line of questioning and more importantly that she managed to see me now that I was officially declared invisible] “Erm, class so and so, um why?”
The Manager: “Oh it’s just that my daughter is one of your students and I have 4 school reports that you wrote about her…”
Me: [oh shit how small is this world I am in…] “Ohhh! Really! What’s your daughters name?”
I was hoping that it was one of the brighter ones and that I could receive some favourable treatment
The Manager: “His name is Som…”
My heart sinks and I inwardly groan. She is ‘the one’ student in the class who doesn’t give a flying cahoonas about learning English and is what I would best term as the classroom ‘plank’
I think, ‘please oh please don’t ask me about how she is in class because I would hate to have to tell you the truth…’
The Manager: “how is she in class? How would you rate her English ability…”
Oh shit, bollocks, fuck, @$*& Nooooooooooo! I actually want to head butt the table for 10 minutes in despair and run out of the office whilst doing a Basil Fawlty rant but I manage to remain calm and composed.
Me: “Oh, well erm, she’s a little slow and lacks concentration in the class, which is normal for a class of 55 screaming kids, but overall, I believe she could do with some ‘private’ lessons to help her along”
I mean what else could I say? She had read my reports and knew that this was my general consensus about the uninterested kid so I couldn’t lie now could I?
The Manager: “Yes, I agree she is a little lazy isn’t she… you wouldn’t believe how much I spend with so and so school per term to have her in your class and over the past 7 years I have spent a lot of money on English lessons for her and she just never seems to improve…”
Phew! Personally, I think that she would be better off spending her money on better things instead, like giving her daughter electric shock treatment, but I just smile knowing full well that she is another teacher’s problem next term.
The Manager looks up at me and says: “Tell you what I’ll do, let’s phone up the school right now and get this cleared up”
I think ‘oh crap’ because the last conversation I had with the school was about them asking me about a stickman submission that someone re-wrote and handed across to them to try and blight me. I do hope they still don’t believe what they read was my writing and more importantly that they don’t hold any grudges. I cross my toes, fingers and legs in a bid to invoke up some good luck. It is worth pointing out here that I actually contacted my scarlet pimpernel school agency a couple of days before and had pre-agreed what date to use and just hoped that they had the decency to phone the school to agree dates as well, or to at least get us all singing off the same sheet. In the mean time, the wife is beginning to huff and puff next to me and mumbles on about being hungry because what she thought was going to be a 10 minute thing is now turning into what could turn out to be hours (it was actually only 30 minutes since we had breakfast…)
So the Manager phones the school. After 5 minutes of pleasantries with a few ums and ahhhhs and the wife groaning next to me, she hangs up and looks across the top of her half moon glasses and informs me of the following: “The school says you left on the 15th march, therefore you will have to pay a 1000 baht fine… however, that is not the main problem. According to your passport, you haven’t informed immigration either, therefore you will also have to pay 15 days over stay fine”
Me: “Yer wha? But but but but but but but… ”
I stop and compose myself before I start sounding like some Indian in the local Taylor shop.
Me: “But the agency / school hasn’t even paid me yet for my salary in March and as they cannot be contacted I doubt very much if I will get it either, especially now I have effectively left, and now they are attempting to do this to me… right I want to make an official complaint about the school and the agency, who do I talk to?”
The Manager realising that this will likely take up too much time and paperwork says: “ok, tell you what, as you have been a good teacher with my daughter this past year, I won’t charge you for the 1000 baht late fee ‘IF’ you get your school to agree and inform us that the date you left the school was the date you have written on this form”. She then waves the form in the air for clarity.
I try to argue the point saying that I am not at fault and believed I was doing things correctly and that the date on the work permit was up until the 31st May and so on… but the lights had gone off in her head and my wife was tugging on my left sleeve and so we decided to slope off and think through the options. In all reality, I didn’t want to have to go back to the school because we weren’t really on talking terms but I had to bite the bullet and go back. We both went off to work and I phone up the school and made an appointment to meet the administration to resolve this once and for all. I also left a shirty message on the voice box of the elusive agencies mobile phone.
The next day I go back into the school.
The School: “Can you tell me why you wrote this article on the Internet…”
Me: “Oh not again… look I just want you to inform the labour office that I left your school yesterday”
The School: “We cannot, you left on the 15th of March…”
Me: “Ahhh! But you do realise that I am owed some money for working at the school for March don’t you and we are now in April sometime and you haven’t informed the labour office either therefore we will both be fined… so don’t you think it’s in our best interests to get this amicably resolved?”
The School: “Hmmmm… Well we have paid your agency, so you should have been paid… what date would you like me to tell the labour office?”
Me: “Next Tuesday will be fine as we have a holiday and so it will give me some time and avoid me getting hit for an overstay with immigration.”
The School: “Ok agreed, I will take it there later today… but tell me, I still want to know why you wrote these things about the school…”
Me: “Sorry but I have gotta go…”
Tuesday comes along and I am back off to the labour office again with the wife. This time things go without a hitch although they did insist on phoning the school again for clarity which provided me with a chuckle because the school started defending themselves saying how they couldn’t understand how I hadn’t been paid yet for March and how they shouldn’t be part of a formal complaint with the labour office, but the woman just asked if the date on my form was in agreement with them and the issue about the money had nothing to do with her. Besides I hadn’t filed a formal complain either so I was not sure why the school was getting all panicky about it. Half of me suspects the Manager at the labour office had managed to wangle a deal on future tuition fees with the school with a threat or two but I will never be party to the truth behind that one.
Finally I got my little receipt. I then spend the next 4 days fighting tooth and nail with the agency about my money and more importantly my tax receipts which finally turned up several days later (although to date I have yet to receive my final salary and have put it down to experience)
I then peg it on back over to work, get the paperwork mountain back from the secretary and leg it on down to immigration on the other side of town. They then extend my visa for 30 days with a stamp saying I need to come back with my work visa before this stamp expires. So here we go again. A few days later, my secretary and someone from HR and I, all take yet another journey to the labour office to get my work visa sorted. Whilst there, they for some odd reason reject my perfectly good photo saying it hasn’t been printed on Kodak paper, and so I have to run out and find someone to take my photo and pay extra for a photo with Kodak backed paper that I really didn’t need and for which in all essence was no different to the photo I had already tried to give them. Anyway, with my little blue book in hand and several thousand baht less in my pocket (I claimed it back later) we all then traipse off back to work with one final trip left to immigration still required. Fortunately, the trip to immigration to finally rubber stamp my visa extension was done by HR so I didn’t have to do the trip again, but what a lot of palaver!
Hopefully I won’t be leaving my new job for some time yet and I believe extending your work permit and visa whilst staying with the same company is a lot easier than changing jobs, but just in case, when I do decide to change careers again in Thailand, you can bet I will be there, a little more prepared, and more importantly, I will be there with a pre-made letter from my place of work, tax receipts and a whole batch of photos pre-made on my inkjet printer with good quality paper and Kodak brand images printed all over the back.
Failing that, I will have 400,000 baht in the bank and the necessary paperwork in place to just stay here on a marriage visa and just work illegally instead… far less hassle if you ask me, and now upon reflection, I think I now truly understand with true clarity why so many decide to stay here and put up with the visa runs instead.
Damn, I have just realised that I need to extend my Thai driving licences soon… Yippee Kai yay – I cannot wait.
The bureaucracy in Thailand can drive even the most relaxed, laid back person to tears.