Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Work without pay

William wearing Ming's winter work hat

I recently read another blogger's eye-opening post on what it's like to work for a Japanese company. Basically, it sounds awful and made me feel really grateful that I've never had the displeasure of working for a Japanese company. It also made me realize that, after a decade in China, I don't even have any concrete experience working in a Chinese company. I spent some time working for the local high school when I first came to Chengde, as well as working for a foreign-run educational company while in Beijing, but I've never been an actual salary(wo)man.

Since I have such little experience, I can't write a lot about what it's like to be a foreigner working in China. I can, however, detail the frustrations of what it's like to be a foreign married to a working Chinese man. I prefer not to divulge my husband's exact job, but let's compare it to a US postal worker. It's the kind of job in which you are employed by the government and serve the people. It's the kind of job that leaves little room for promotion but lots of stability and security. And as with most jobs in China, it's also the kind of job that means your time off is not necessarily yours do with as you please.

a class where I taught high school in Chengde, 2005
My brief stint as a high school teacher did reveal the former, but at the time I was young and optimistic enough not to care. I happily agreed to last minute English department dinners, spending the weekend judging English competitions, and tutoring my boss's friend's daughter (for free! Though at the end of our sessions I was given a knock-off Louis Vuitton scarf so it was almost worth it). Now that I'm older and more schooled in life, on principle I don't find this sort of slave labor acceptable, though maybe I should as it seems pretty much part and parcel of working in China.

My husband has it much worse than I ever had. Most of my mandatory work extracurriculars were pretty entertaining. Despite my current grumpiness and displeasure towards working off the clock, I could probably be talked into more departmental dinners. The exotic food (think 1000 year eggs and chicken's feet) and baijiu always puts some color into an otherwise mundane day. Ming doesn't get to have fun, free meals. Instead, he often has to sit through boring meetings on his day off. He has to go to Beijing for various reasons, all of which I won't list off here, but most recently he's been summoned there for three days to undergo his annual physical.

This is extremely irritating for a number of reasons. Firstly, I find it ridiculous that they require all the workers to go to Beijing to have a physical when it could just as easily be done at one of the hospitals in Chengde. My husband and I have a list of theories why they must trek to Beijing--most likely, the higher-ups at his job have some sort of guanxi (relationship) with that particular hospital. I wouldn't be that bothered about him going to Beijing though, if he were being paid for it. He is not. The time he spends there is time he would otherwise spend at home with his family.

I also get upset that these sort of things pop up at the most inopportune moments, often last minute, with no regard for prior plans or engagements. As will be the case this year, last year Ming had his physical in late March. I was nervous about him leaving as it left me home alone, in a foreign country, with my grade school-aged step-daughter, 9 months pregnant. This year the situation isn't quite as dire, though I do have plans for March 29th, the day, we have just been informed, of his physical. Luckily, Ming managed to convince his boss to move up the date, but it will mean he has to use one of his vacation days for the trip (again, extremely irritating).

The annual Beijing physical is just an example of what goes on. Ming has had to leave nearly once a month for much of recent memory. And the situation is even worse for many workers. Most of my students' parents, especially their dads, are gone frequently. In many of their families, it seems like the dad is away on business more than he is home. Some kids frequently stay with grandparents because their parents are both out-of-town for work. I know my situation could be much worse, but I sometimes get hung up on the unfairness of it.

What about you? Have you ever felt like you were overworked or underpaid?


Jocelyn Eikenburg said...

I totally feel this post! I've had many times when I taught English where I was expected to do things without pay in my spare time. I think that's one of the reasons I balked at teaching at a school after my first year in this country -- because I hated the last minute banquets, trips, you name it.

That sucks about your husband's company always sending him to Beijing to do something he could easily have taken care of in Chengde.

(BTW, thanks for the link to my event! I'm looking forward to seeing you there!)

rosieinbj said...

Thanks for your comment Jocelyn. I have to admit, I actually had it really good at the high school I taught at. It was the first year they had foreign teachers and we were such a novelty. They were a little bit over protective, but they treated us so kindly! I don't know that I could do it again though.

Anonymous said...

I have been lucky in this regard, I haven't been asked to do a lot of overtime or other things for free. But I guess my work experiences in China don't really count as I have never worked in a 100% Chinese company. The only annoying thing has been working on the weekends to make up for holidays, but that is the same for anybody that works in China.

Your husband's experiences sound quite annoying. I hate that of Asian companies (apart from Japan as Mary wrote, Korean companies are also like this). They don't think people should have a private life, or what? Sometimes my boyfriend's company organizes meetings on the weekends and I get extremely pissed off. Meetings are part of the job and as such should be done during work hours, not on a Sunday!!

rosieinbj said...

@Marta, yeah, you actually came to mind when I wrote this. I was thinking about your recent CNY banquet and how working in China isn't all bad!!!

I HATE that everyone has to make up their holidays on the weekend. It is confusing and feels like a punishment after a reward.

RubyMary said...

Oh man that is SO frustrating with your husband! I would be super upset about that, too! Especially the health check up that makes noooo sense whatsoever.

What makes me upset is the no pay thing, it's absolutely ridiculous. In America, you would get sued for that!

In Japan (when I was a teacher) they also made us attend after school parties, drinking events, school events on the weekend etc.., but at least they apologized and bowed and were very kind about it. I didn't complain because I knew they had to suffer through it, too, and probably weren't getting OT either.

Anyway, I feel so bad for your husband! Ick. And a government job means a lot of sticky tape and regulations..

Super cute photo of your son with the hat! :D

rosieinbj said...

Thanks for your comment Mary--and for inspiring me to write about this (AND for reminding me that I'm not alone in being aggravated about sucky work conditions in Asia).

Nemameido said...

I am so sorry to hear that your husband has all of this unpaid extra work. In the back of my mind I have known about this kind of thing, and I've seen my colleagues in schools working their tails off too. I guess I don't think about it as much because at the moment my husband's job is to take care of our daughter.

I can't imagine you staying alone, nine months pregnant and taking care of a kid! I'm glad everything was alright. It is so unfair that life is like that for so many people in China (or worse!)

Maybe this is why having family around is so so important for Chinese, because when things like this happen, someone can be called in (in theory) to help.

My husbands family is very tight knit like that and so willing to help out with any little thing.

Do you live near your husband's family members?

Anonymous said...

By the way this is Kimberly at Nama-Mama. I guess I do have a blogger account from way back when!

rosieinbj said...

@Kimberly, yes, my m-i-l lives very close by. My f-i-l passed away the year before I met my husband.

How are you coping being away from your husband's family? I suppose it's not so bad since he isn't working (other than the business you guys are starting??).

Constance - Foreign Sanctuary said...

When I lived in Taipei, I was expected to attend workshops during my free time and I wasn't paid for it. However, the number you needed to attend decreased as you gained experience. Attendance was directly linked to your pay increase every 6 months, so I guess there was some incentive to attend.

rosieinbj said...

@Constance, I can understand doing some work functions and not getting paid. I think your situation in Taipei sounds pretty reasonable, as long as proper notice is given. I hate that things here are usually last minute and often without reason.