Drama, guys. Lots of drama.
So I was having a great day yesterday. I made some decisions in my life that would really take advantage of my time here in China. I decided to stop taking online courses and save my GI bill for real school next year. And I realized that not making any real effort to improve my spoken Chinese while I live here was stupid. I couldn’t wait to tell my students the next morning about some of these mini-revelations (and maybe recruit a couple to be my personal language tutors, of course.)
And then, I got a knock on my door. The two other English teachers had some bad news for me.
There’s a baffling new government policy for foreign workers in China. Evidently we need social insurance, and what this translates to in real life is that they will deduct 550 RMB from our paychecks monthly. And oh by the way, this policy came in effect in June, but our university hadn’t deducted anything from our paychecks, so we’ll have to pay extra for the next few months to make up for it.
Keep in mind that one of the other foreign teachers was told all of this through a phone call at 7:00 at night, a few days before we’re supposed to get paid this month. And the rest of us foreign teachers weren’t told about it at all. Keepin’ it classy.
What makes the deal even better is that the 550 RMB, plus the university’s contributions into our social insurance fund or whatever, are inaccessible until our contracts end. So, you know, when we’re getting on the plane back to our home countries, THAT’S when we can take out the thousands of RMB that we have been putting into this fund. Whose shitty idea was this?!
But here’s the real rub: for foreign workers in China, contracts are king (or queen). Our contracts say nothing about this policy. Whether this policy is new or not, we should have been told that 11% of our paychecks would be disappearing into this magical fund that we won’t be able to access until we leave the country. Since we can only convert or carry back a certain amount of RMB, this money is basically useless to us.
Unfortunately, in mine and another teacher’s contract, there’s an unfortunate “before tax” next to our paycheck amount. If the policy says it’s a “tax” instead of a “fee” or “contribution,” we might be fucked. But one of the foreign teacher’s contract doesn’t mention any taxes at all. So what about him? And if he doesn’t have to pay it, why should the rest of us? It’s all very confusing.
So we took matters into our own hands. We confronted the English department dean, who is in charge of our pay, and told her that if we don’t see our full salary in our bank accounts on Monday, we’ll not go to our classes next week. If they don’t uphold their end of the contract, we won’t uphold ours.
If they still don’t get it worked out next week (by weaseling out of the policy, increasing our pay by 550 per month, or decreasing our class hours to reflect the lower pay), the next step is for us to go on strike…. permanently. As in leave the school. Honestly, I don’t want this happen. I like living here, I have met some great people, and I have high expectations for the rest of the school year. But if they bend the contract now, what will be next? Will they spring other deductions on us later and tell us that it’s another “tax” that they can do nothing about? It sets a bad precedent to cave in to this new policy without a fight.
So things are a little stressful right now. Luckily, both possible outcomes are pretty good: one, I keep my job and they increase my pay to balance the social security fee; or two, I’m unemployed but have 10000 RMB in the bank to go travel around China for a month or two, depending on how frugal I am.
No matter what happens, life will go on. I would just prefer a low-stress life that doesn’t urge me to alcoholism and chain-smoking.