The two-member parents’ committee investigating the Japan program, which arrived in Japan on 22nd February, have so far met with around 254 Bhutanese students and come up with various findings.
One main finding according to the committee is that the employment agency SND, which is BEO’s partner agency in Japan, was collecting a percentage of the students’ pay.
Sonam Tshering Dhendup, the committee president and Ngawang Tobgay, the committee lawyer, have not only been meeting the students but they have also been giving questionnaires to students on their experience there, and they have also been collecting signed statements from them.
These signed documents are expected to be used in a court case that the parents plan to file against BEO when the committee come backs with documents, statements and evidences. The committee is also getting power of attorney signatures from students which will enable the committee to represent them in the legal case against BEO.
“In the three days, we have been able to meet 238 students personally and we contacted another 16 staying very far away via video. We have sent feedback forms to all of them”, Ngawang said.
The committee intends to meet and get in touch with each and every Bhutanese student in Japan.
Ngawang said that the students started noticing that the jobs provided through the agency was paying far less than what others were getting.
“The students learned that the agency was paid commission by the companies. This is because the total on the salary receipt didn’t tally with the amount the youths were getting,” said Ngawang.
He said, “When the students enquired, the company confessed to paying a certain amount from the wages of students as a ‘commission’ to the agency for supplying the manpower.”
Tandin Chophel, a student who returned to Bhutan said the job provided by the agency paid lesser than the ones found by the own efforts of the students.
“We later found out that around 300 Yen per hour is taken by the agency in Japan linked with BEO as a commission,” said Tandin.
Tandin said the the actual wage rate per hour is 1,200 Yen, however the students who worked under the company which the agency had searched for them had been paying 900 Yen per hour.
He said the upon inquiry by students, the company confessed that the certain amount has to be paid to the agency as commission.
Ngawang said that of the 254 students they met so far most of them had initially taken the agency provided jobs, without knowing about the commission.
Once they found out about it, word spread and all of them opted out and looked for jobs on their own which paid much better.
Ngawang said that of the 254 students only one was still doing the agency provided job which was deducting her wage.
However, it appears that SND was not happy with students opting out of the jobs provided by it.
Ngawang said, “They (students) were discouraged and warned by the agency against finding jobs on their own.”
“According to the students, the job provided by the agency was more strenuous and there was lesser pay” Ngawang said.
Ngawang said that even though there were better job opportunities for students available, the agency only went for companies that paid commission to the agency.
Apart from commission being taken on the wages of Bhutanese students, the parents committee also came across Bhutanese students being held back by four language schools who had illegally taken away the passport of the students.
Ngawang also said the four schools who took away the passports from the Bhutanese students are in Chiba, Koba, Osaka and Fukuoka. They had taken the passports of students who were not able to pay the tuition fees.
The taking away of passports, and detention of Bhutanese students is illegal and against both Japanese and international law.
The committee, along with help from a Japanese social worker and also a lawyer in Japan, held a press conference in Japan bringing to light the issue of the passports of Bhutanese students being held.
According to Japan Times, social worker Yumiko Kan, during the press conference on 25 February, said this is illegal. “The students are in despair. They were threatened by the agent and the Japanese language school and then even through the government. They were threatened and that’s why they cannot speak up,” she said.
“We also could meet with a famous lawyer here, who would now help us to follow up on the matter according to the Japanese laws and regulations,” said Ngawang.
Apart from target to meet each and every student to get the clearest possible picture of the ground reality, Ngawang said the visit also hopes to ensure necessary support is secured from relevant stakeholders for the students.
Apart from issues regarding working conditions and loan repayment, he said the main concerns of the students are mainly the visa issue and lack of guidance.
Ngawang said that while 50 of the students they met are going back to Bhutan, the remaining are in a dilemma. “To go back to Bhutan, their main concern is the loan repayment and for them to stay back they have to take a vocational class which would require huge amount of money for the fees”, he said.
Ngawang said that while some are seeking financial help from parents, some are planning to borrow and taken on more debt.
The parents’ representatives also had the brief meeting with the Ministry of Justice and Immigration to try and secure help on the visa issue for students.
“The ministry said a new visa scheme has been introduced which requires the foreign students to pass just the N4 exam for which nine countries are nominated, which includes Bhutan too. But our government needs to approach them for the memorandum signing,” said Ngawang.
The committee representatives, Ngawang and Sonam said that the students, overall, are not doing okay.
“Though the situation has improved a bit due to their very own efforts, our youths here initially had a hard time as reported by those who returned to Bhutan,” said the two.
Agent and schools not cooperating
Despite support from Bhutanese students, the Japanese government and civil society, the committee said that the language schools, vocational institutes and agents are not cooperating.
The two representatives managed to arrange meeting with the students outside these places.
The committee said that the partnering agency of BEO in Japan, SND and Tandin Wangchuk, the BEO’s representative in Japan, also declined to meet the parent’s representatives.
“The reason for this denial both from the schools and agency’s side is unclear but we feel that the agency could have taken the responsibility to arrange the meeting with the schools, but instead, they blatantly refused to even meet us,” said Ngawang.
After arrival on 22nd February, the two committee representatives met students from 11 different language schools from 23rd till 26th February.
From 27th till 1st March, the committee visited some of the work places and met the Mayor of Ehime city to explore possible work opportunities to help the students in Japan.
The representatives will travel to Kobe and Osaka city after Ehime. Till the 14th March, the visit expects to cover all the 24 language schools the Bhutanese youths are placed in.
The government had earlier shot down the proposal of the parents to include their representative in a government delegation heading to Japan.
The parents then collected money from among themselves to send two of their representatives.
The parents so far have expressed disappointment with the government and the opposition for being on the same page on the Japan case and for not asking for more accountability.
They have also pointed out that the ACC investigation was incomplete. The ACC in an earlier response to a question by this reporter revealed that they did not have enough budget to go and investigate in Japan.
Earlier, the Japanese social worker Yumko Kan, brought forth an audio tape where a language school owner had confessed to paying 140,000 Yen commissions to SND for each Bhutanese student.
This is separate from the wages commission which SND was getting from the student’s wages.
BEO and its partner agency SND had already taken Nu 57,000 from each student as legal commission for its services.
The above additional commissions taken in Japan were not revealed to the students nor was the ACC in Japan to be aware of it.