Don’t Sign That Contract! A Guide to Teaching Contracts
Are you being badgered to sign a contract for a teaching job? It’s an all too common feeling in Hong Kong. Before you put pen to paper, take a minute to think about it! If you’re going to sign a contract with an institution, make sure you read the contract(s) carefully. Here are some things to watch out for.
Why Am I Being Asked to Sign Two Contracts?
Signing two contracts can be quite common, especially if you are working for an agency. Often, they will give you one contract to sign which is for the agency (they tend to give this one to the immigration department) and another one for your school. (If they are sending you out to one.)
It is vital that you take the time to read through both contracts to make sure they are the same. Some employers are tricky and will try and catch you out. They will also stand behind whichever contract suits their current position. The below scenario is all too common.
“Your school has Friday off? Well you don’t because in your agency contract, it says that you need to work at our learning centre if you aren’t working at the school.”
Seriously, read your contract.
In My Contract, It Says I Can’t Work for Any Other School for a Year After This Job. Is That Even a Thing?
Don’t sign a contract with these terms in it. It’s ridiculous to say that an educator can’t work for another school for a year after quitting their job. Does that mean educators have to take a year off with no pay? Of course not. If a company asks you to sign a contract and agree to these terms, tell them to take them out. You’ll find that they will. I’ve had friends and colleagues succeed at getting bogus terms taken out of their contracts. If that doesn’t work, walk away. You can do better. There are plenty of tales from others who have been offered contracts with similar terms in them. Don’t be one of them.
My Contract States That I Have to Pay a Month in Wages on Top of My Notice If I Want to Leave. Is This Legal?
Welcome to cowboy land. If you sign a contract like this, it’s on you. The labour department isn’t very good at offering you protection against this kind of behaviour. Unscrupulous workplaces know this and use It to bully their employees into staying. It’s sad that this is the case. Do not sign a contract with these terms in them. You don’t want to end up in a situation like this
What a “Normal” Contract Looks Like
While challenging to cover the spectrum of jobs on offer and the wide variety of contracts to match, I want to give you an idea of what a basic teaching contract may look like. It may give you some ideas for questions you want to ask your future employers.
Probation Period — a probation period of between 1–3 months is quite reasonable.
Your start date should line up with the date that is on your work visa. You should be asking questions if an institute is asking you to start work before your visa has been approved.
Your salary should be mentioned in your contract. If you have more than one contract, the salary should be the same. Make sure you check that! Your contract may also mention a salary rate for extra teaching hours. Be sure to inquire (if appropriate).
Working hours, the location of work and a brief description of your job nature should be present. If you end up working outside of your job requirements, it’s time to either ask for a raise or stop taking on job duties that fall outside of your position.
Some institutions will offer medical and some won’t. If it’s not in your contract, inquire as to if you have medical coverage or if it something they will add in the future.
Holiday leave! Got to know them holidays!
Penalties for being late.
Solicitation restrictions. I think these are perfectly fine to have in a contract as long as they don’t restrict the teacher in any way.
Work arrangements during typhoons/black rainstorm signals.
General Tips for Negotiating A Contract
Everything is Negotiable
Speaking of negotiation, make this your mantra to live by here. Everything is negotiable. Get used to fighting against the word “No”. I know of teachers getting extra Saturdays off, negotiating more holiday days and even getting a travel allowance. Push hard. The worst answer you’ll get is “No”.
If you agree on a particular amount in an interview, make sure you follow it up with the person in an email. Something like this:
Thank you for meeting with me for an interview today. I am delighted that we could agree on the salary of “x amount” which I believe reflects the value I will add to your school.
That way, you have evidence of the agreed amount. You don’t want to be caught flat-footed when they come back to you with a lower amount claiming “amnesia”. I think the more things you have in writing, the better position you are in to negotiate.
If You Suspect Something Isn’t Right, Reach Out
There are plenty of places that will offer you support should you have questions about the legitimacy of the contract you are about to sign. Geoexpat, Asiaxpat, various groups on Facebook like this one, meet-up groups like this one as well as government websites like the EDB and the Labour Department are but just a few of the ways you can reach out for help.
Dear reader, thank you for getting this far. I sincerely hope this post has been helpful and if you have anything to add to it, let me know! Don’t forget to follow us on our social networks, too!