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Warning: ETI in Kazakhstan

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Joined: 15 Jul 2010
Posts: 11
Location: Hungary

PostPosted: Thu Oct 03, 2013 2:27 pm    Post subject: Warning: ETI in Kazakhstan Reply with quote

I'm a very experienced teacher and I didn't see this coming. So I'm writing to warn people about this company. I'd like to stress that this all comes from my experience with this company so this is is an opinion based on that experience. Things seem very promising right from the beginning. EVERYTHING looks good. I can tell you that Aktau is a great location to work (though the weather can be extreme in summer and winter) and the students are keen and want to learn. That's roughly where the good stuff stops.

1. In the interviews I asked about staff turnover and was told that staff stay on for years. That may be true for ETI Georgia but it's not true in Aktau, KZ. The reality was that there was a 500% office staff turnover in the ten months I was there and 100% of teachers in the same time. I asked for referees in the interview but they were never supplied.

2. A big warning here: They will get you to sign more than one contract. The one in English isn't worth anything as all teaching contracts must be in both Russian and Kazakh by law. They asked me to sign three contracts in the end. None were the same and the one we finished with was not the same as the one we started with. If you finish in dispute with them, this will be come as a surprise because you will be told, as I was, that the English contract is the one they use in a dispute and for resolution of problems. It isn't. The Russian one is the ruling contract. This may well be criminal behaviour but that's not my field.

3. The truth is but a shadow of reality at ETI. The local manager told me that it was his job to lie, cheat and coerce staff to get them to do what he wants. One of the big issues there is the looseness of the truth. But, in my experience, he has no idea about truth. His problem in this area is that he will tell clients anything to get their business and he often makes promises the teachers can not keep.

4. The manager has a very poor grasp of English but he's too proud to improve it or tell you he doesn't understand. Naturally you will be expected to understand everything cryptic thing that comes from him. If you agree something with him, confirm it in writing so he can't deny it later.

5. To make it worse he is a master of blame-shifting. It will always be your fault even when he's wrong. Denial is his thing (remember to write it all down in an email) and he's never responsible unless he gets the glory.

6. He is a very poor communicator. He will not keep you in the loop on anything. You will have no idea of basic things like English speaking doctors, dentists etc and he won't find out for you either. The Teacher's Manual should have everything you need but it tell you nothing. I went to work on three separate public holidays because he didn't have the courtesy to tell me such things. In the end my students started to forewarn me.

7. He's a hopeless manager in my opinion and teachers are not considered at all. Don't expect any information about classes - either existing classes or new ones - because you won't get any. Nor is it likely that you will get course materials either. They get ordered much later. Having seen this pattern, I was told with a new class that the course materials were late because the supplier was out of stock. I asked who the supplier was then contacted them. They wrote back and told me they had plenty of books and that they had not received an order from ETI. He was even less amused that I was when I dropped that email on his desk. Also, policy changes on the fly and, when you don't comply, you get blamed even if you weren't told about the change. His poor organisational skills create crises that the teachers have to fix. ETI's policy is that SMS messages are for emergencies. Everything with this guy seems to be an emergency.

8. Pay: To be fair, the rates of pay are high but that's probably a reflection of the treatment given to their teachers in the past as they have great difficulty getting staff. If your contract says you get paid in US dollars or British pounds (highly recommended) stand your ground. Do not accept tenge if your contract says dollars or pounds. They will try to get you to accept the company's standard conversion rate (it was 150 KZT to the dollar) but, in my ten months, it was never that low. It doesn't sound like much but an official rate of 153 KZT is a 2% loss to you and a 2% gain to them. And, if you are lucky, you might get paid somewhere close to the due date but don't bet on it - there's always an excuse to alleviate the blame and put it elsewhere.

9. Accommodation: He'll take anything on your behalf and without consultation with you - and I mean anything - and he'll tell you it's acceptable. Do NOT expect to have any say in this but make sure you have a guarantee in writing that you have the right of veto if things are not acceptable to you. Every teacher has been supplied with sub-standard living conditions even by local standards.

10. If you are prepared to stand up for your rights, you will be ostracised and they will find reasons to get rid of you. In my case they manufactured reasons and had to revoke my dismissal. The manager, who seems really nice at first, acts like a one-man Stalinist regime if you disagree with anything at all.

11. I made three accusations of harassment against the manager and the closest I got to an investigation was the Managing Director telling me that "He wouldn't say that" but as she was not in the country she wouldn't have known. My second and third claims of harassment were ignored completely which is against the law in Kazakhstan as it is in most countries.

Well, you've been warned. Work for this company at your own risk.

Feel free to contact me if you need more information.

David Lenehan
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Joined: 21 Jun 2003
Posts: 1819

PostPosted: Sat Oct 12, 2013 5:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Some comments on each of your points, devil's advocate mode:
1. How many employers offer referees? I can't think of any.
2. Of course the English contract is the one they use for discussion: unless you speak Russian of course. Yes, it is the Russian contract that is the lawful one, but in fact the contract should be split into two columns, one in Russian and one with the translation into English. You are supposed to understand your contract!
3. Some managers I know think it a necessity to lie (and I'm talking about one or two in my home country), but not all Russian ones do. Many are flexible with the truth when it comes to getting customers in. Not all promises can be kept, even by those managers who mean it at the time.
4. Russians with English language problems. No kidding.
5. Blame shifting. Not unique to your school.
6. Poor communications. Welcome to this part of the world.
7. Text books and CDs are horrendously expensive. It is unusual for a manager to pay thousands of dollars on books without being sure that the students are in place to use them. Policy changes quickly; management theory will tell you that small organisations have to be nimble. If you want to work for a big company, stay at home where you speak the language and hope for the best.
8. You say you are being paid well but want to argue the toss over the conversion rate. Who should be criticising who?
9. You have not said what is substandard, nor where you come from, nor whether or not you have been in a CIS country before, so it is hard to know how reasonable you are being.
10. It depends upon what 'rights' you were asserting and how desperate they were to get rid of or keep you.
11. Claims of harassment. What did they you do to you? As with the previous two points, it depends...

To summarise: Yes this sounds like a less than desirable place - I certainly do not enjoy working with dishonest people - but it also sounds like there may be more than one side to this story. The earlier points do suggest that there may be a culture clash; are you new to this part of the world and/or to teaching English as a foreign language? It would help to know what you mean by substandard accommodation, your rights and harassment.

Postscript I have just noticed that you are an experienced teacher. Sorry. My comments don't quite reflect this point. I should have asked whether or not you have been to CIS countries before, but not questioned your teaching experience.
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Joined: 28 Feb 2006
Posts: 16

PostPosted: Thu Nov 07, 2013 6:40 am    Post subject: Central Asia is the armpit of the world. Reply with quote

Oh look... there is a big zit in my armpit. That is Kazakhstan. Highly sophisticated people (very "clever" using American definition), beautiful architecture (if you like turquoise blue, gaudy and big) and most delicious food in the world (fermented mares milk and sheep head anyone?). Scenery can be stunning, but that is it.

EDIT: I actually worked at ETI GE in 08/09. I was the only native speaker and I worked off-site at BP. There was already a disconnect between supposed foreign ownership and local control at that time. Management was Georgian and atrocious. From what I heard AZ was already lost. No idea about KZ as I think it opened after the fact. Speculate there is some foreign shyster behind it who probably comes in and sucks up some cash, snags a energy company contract by simply pointing to other "successful" schools he started/owns and firms they deal with. Then disappears....
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