Firefly in Japan, Part 12: Getting ripped off
I was looking forward to opening my pay slip.
I was especially looking forward to claiming some money back for my weekend of hell. The pain in my legs had long since worn off, but the irritation and anger at being sucked into the weekend and Shane’s awkward rebuke still simmered beneath my peaceful exterior.
Wednesday rolled around, and I came back to the office in the late afternoon to find an envelope with my name on it. Hooray.
I sat down, and opened the envelope.
Base Salary : 350,000 yen
Tax : 12,330 yen
Regular Work : 160 Hours
Overtime : 0 hours
Extended Overtime : 0 hours
Total Pay : 337,670 yen.
I examined the pay check again. 337,670 yen? 0 hours overtime? I blinked.
I looked up at Shane and Bill. Their desks were at the far end of the office against the windows. They faced the worker desks, so we could see their faces and not their screens. They were working as normal, their faces impassive. I blinked again.
There must have been some kind of mistake. Right. A simple accounting error. Actually, maybe I screwed up my timesheets, and put in my time on a weekday instead of the weekend. Then the overtime wouldn’t have been calculated. I slowly began nodding my head. Probably just my mistake. I better go check with Shane.
I stood up, and walked over to Shanes desk.
“Sorry to disturb you, Shane,” I said, clutching my sickly paycheck. “I noticed that all the weekend overtime I did wasn’t actually written on my payslip here. See how it says 0 hours overtime? I did about 10 hours that weekend. Did I make a mistake or screw up my timesheets or something?”
Shane seemed to freeze for a moment. He looked at me, looked at my paycheck, and then stole a glace at Bill.
“Right… The overtime,” Shane said slowly.
I looked at him in anticipation. He coughed lightly and uncomfortable, the phlegm from his cigarette habit rattling in his lungs. He looks guilty, I realised.
“You should talk to Bill about that, I think.” Shane said, finally.
Bill, upon hearing his name, looked over at me and Shane. He looked down and saw my payslip. Almost imperceptibly, he scowled. My eyebrows furrowed. What is going on here?
I walked over to Bill’s desk. “Hi Bill, sorry to disturb you, Shane said I should talk to you about my pay slip?” I said as politely as I possibly could.
“What overtime?” Bill asked.
“All the overtime I did for the rack move 2 weeks ago. Remember?” I prompted Bill.
“That’s not overtime.” Bill said.
“Um, yes¡Ä the weekend overtime. It was a Saturday, and Sunday, and I worked. That’s overtime.” I said.
“No, we couldn’t charge the client for your work. So you don’t get paid for it. This is all in your contract, why don’t you go and look it up. Anyway, I’m busy now.” Bill said impatiently.
“Um, I don’t quite understand. Bill can I speak to you outside for a moment?” I asked.
“I’m busy now.” Bill said without hesitation.
“I won’t take 5 minutes. I’d really like to sort this out” I said.
Bill grunted, and pushed his chair away from his desk angrily. He stood up and quickly walked outside. I followed him.
“Let me try to explain whats going on right now. I worked really hard that weekend. I cancelled my plans, and I worked for you. Because you said you needed my help. I did my best to help you out, and now you’re telling me that I’m not even going to get paid for it?” I said.
“This is all in your contract. Because we can’t charge the client, you don’t get paid.” Bill said. He looked past me to the door, but I had him cornered, since I stood in the doorway.
“But you’re going to sell those racks to customers for 200,000 yen each. All I’m asking for is my legitimately worked overtime. It’s like, 25,000 yen?” I enunciated.
“I’m not going to stand here and discuss this with you. I’ve already told you. You’re not getting paid.” Bill said with an air of finality.
“That’s ridiculous. You’re not even going to pay me regular rates? I can’t stand for that, it’s crazy!” I shouted.
“I’ve had enough. Move out of my way.” Bill said, pushing past me. I tried to stand in the door, but Bill shoved past me and returned to his desk. I stood there, fuming.
Shane came outside, and lit up a cigarette and looked at me. I looked back at him. He coughed nervously.
“Too bad about that, huh.” He said, his eyes averted. Godammit, what a fucking puppet. He knows it’s wrong, but he won’t stand up to Bill.
“Yeah, that’s just too bad.” I said angrily, and walked back inside. I imagined myself shouting as loudly as I could in frustration to relieve some tension. It didn’t work.
I walked back over to my desk, switched off my PC, gathered my things and walked over to the door. My work-mates looked up at me, sensing something was wrong. I shot Bill a dirty glance, but he wasn’t even looking at me. I spun around and left the office.
I felt dizzy walking back to the train station. How is that possible? Is it even legal for him to not pay me for time I worked? That’s bullshit. I got home, and pulled out my contract. I looked at the compensation clause.
“Employee will not be paid in respect of work completed where Employer is unable to directly charge a customer.”
Oh. It is there. That’s a bit rude.
I then went through all of my previous pay packets, and compared them to the actual hours of work I performed. I found multiple discrepancies – none in my favour of course. I realised this had been happening for about 10 months, and I had just trusted them to do the right thing by me, and pay me what I earned. I’ll never make that mistake again.
I’ve later found out this was an illegal contract. You can’t make an employee work, and then make them agree to not be paid. It’s like contracting someone to murder you – you still get charged for murder, and you would still get charged by the Labour Bureau for illegally treating workers.
Anyway, I went back to my shoebox apartment, and fell asleep. I woke up the next morning feeling cheated. I got ready for work, and left at 8:25. I picked up a coffee and my favourite egg, lettuce and tomato sandwich from Caf½æP de Crie, and headed into work. I stuffed the sandwich down my throat before I arrived to work, because Bill told me once that I shouldn’t waste time eating breakfast at work, and I wasn’t in the mood to argue.
I walked in at 9am, and sat down at my desk. Bill and Shane weren’t there yet. I loaded up the Sydney Morning Herald website to check the local Sydney news. My mind wandered to the internet access logs, and I braced myself for a potential future complaint about visiting non-work related websites at work. I shrugged off those thoughts, and after spending a few minutes keeping up to date with the happenings in Australia, which allow me to better talk and relate to my Australian clients anyway, I began to prepare for my client trip to Kamiyacho.
Bill and Shane arrived at the same time – 9:40am. They walked past me, and didn’t say good morning. I didn’t feel particularly obliged to say good morning either. I returned to my work.
I glanced at the date on the PC clock. 13th of October, 2001. I mused on my time in Japan so far. I had arrived in August of 2000. My working holiday visa was going to expire after a year and a half. That means my visa will last until February 2002. Only 5 months left!
I paused for a moment to consider what would happen when my visa expired. I would have to l
eave Japan. What would happen? Would there be a way to stay in Japan? Would it even be possible? Doubtful, I thought, solemnly. Since I had no University degree, and I didn’t have 10 years of commercial experience in my field, getting a working visa was pretty much impossible.
Bill and Shane – how much longer could I stand working for them? I would have to leave Japan in 5 months. No company would hire me for that period of time – not for the salary I was on anyway. Looks like you have to harden the fuck up, and see it through, I told myself. If you want to stay in this country, anyway. I nodded silently to my unspoken decision.
The calendar in my Outlook dinged. I had to leave to visit my client. I turned off my computer. I packed up my laptop (which I had purchased myself, since Bill and Shane wouldn’t buy me one), and put all of my engineer tools into my bag. I stood up, and walked to the door. Just as I was about to walk through the door, Bill called out.
“Wait up a minute – you’re going to Kamiyacho right?” Bill asked.
“Yeah.” I responded.
“I’ll give you a lift there. Hang on a minute¡Ä” Bill said.
“I’m fine. I’ll just take the train. See you later.” I tried to leave.
“No, I’m going there anyway. Just wait there, will you?” Bill said, collecting some of his things from his desk.
I reluctantly stood there for a couple of minutes as he got ready to leave. I looked at my watch. He stood up.
I followed him outside to the car. He opened it, and I sat down. Kamiyacho was only a 15 minute drive, but I would have preferred to take the train. Being around Bill made me fell ill. He pulled out of the small parking lot, and we were on the road.
“So¡Ä You’ve been here for over a year now.” Bill said, while we were stopped at some lights. My ears perked up. Something was going on. Was I going to get a raise?
“That sounds about right,” I said, noncommittally.
“Right. Well, I wanted to tell you, ” Bill cleared his throat. “You’re doing a fine job. All of the clients speak very highly of you, and things are going really well.”
What the hell was that. My eyebrows furrowed in confusion. Somethings going on. Working in this company, you quickly learn to sense when something really messed up is going to happen, and my spidey sense was ringing off the hook.
“Also, with the current economic climate, we’re not able to continue with the previous rate of payment.” Bill swallowed. “So, from this month, your pay will be cut by 50,000 yen.”
“..W-w-what?” I stuttered, in shock.
“But I don’t want you to take this the wrong way.” Bill said, quickly. “It’s just how things are. It’s not because you’ve been doing a bad job, or anything. The work you’re doing is really good actually. But we have to give you a 50,000 yen pay decrease.”
“But, that’s a big percentage of my salary! We’re in the middle of a contract! You can’t just drop my salary like that!” I said, tears of futility welled up in my eyes.
“Well, I already have. You’re on 300,000 yen now. It’s not negotiable.” Bill said, as he pulled over the car. “Heres your stop.”
I sat in the car unwilling to get out. “Look, Bill – you can’t just do this. I was banking on that salary to be there. I’ve got bills to pay – I was planning on going home to Australia for Christmas! Come on, mate.” I pleaded, pathetically.
“Hop out. I’ve got a meeting to go to. Hurry up.” Bill prodded me.
I sat there, speechless. I tried to will into existence the perfect sentence or phrase that would make Bill see some reason and not suddenly cut my salary. I came up blank, and I ended up sitting there in silence. I brusquely wiped away an angry tear that threatened to slide down my cheek and betray my helplessness.
“Find another job, if it bothers you that much.” Bill said. “Now come on, hop out, I’ll be running late.”
I opened the car door, and stepped out. I pulled out my bag. I was silent. I had nothing to say. I closed the door, and the car drove off immediately. Zombie-like, I stumbled into the client site, scenarios and analysis pumping through my head.
“Find another job, if it bothers you that much.” Bills voice repeated in my head. “Find another job,” his sneering tone cut through my mindless state. I suddenly realized what was happening. My visa was expiring in February. I had only 5 months left. I could only work for another 5 months, before I have to leave Japan for good. Bill knew that. Bill also knew that no other company would hire me for only 5 months. Bill thinks he has me over a barrel, I realised. He thinks he can treat me like SHIT, and drop my salary, because I’ll suck it up, and take it, since I have nowhere else to go.
Well, fuck that. And fuck Bill. I’m not the kind of person to be taken advantage of. In fact, what a dirty bastard. My previous helpless state was instantly gone. In its place, stood a pissed off, defiant Firefly ready to take some major action. I could clearly see what was going on – Bill is trying to screw me. Again. And I won’t let that happen.
I did the work I had to do at the clients, and left work on time at 6pm. I went home, and pulled out my laptop. I started typing.
“Dear Bill, Shane.
Firstly, thank you very much for all of my experiences at your company. I very much enjoyed my time here, and I learned many things. However it is with regret that I inform you I will be terminating my employment contract, effective immediately. In compliance with the contract, I will provide 30 days of further work. My last day will be the 14th of November, 2001.”
I stopped typing, and re-read what I had typed so far. An unexpected wave of euphoria and ecstasy coursed through my body. I had no idea how freeing and exciting it was to quit a shit job. Inspired, I continued writing the rest of the resignation letter. It was very polite, and written in very polite English, that masked my underlying contempt for Bill and Shane. It was my masterpiece – a polite resignation letter that read well, but managed to pound the reader with a reverberating underhanded “FUCK YOUUUUU”. I smiled and admired my work. I couldn’t wait to give it to them.
Next morning came slowly. I arrived to the office at 9am. Bill and Shane weren’t there. I took particular delight in printing out my resignation letter on the company printers. I signed 2 copies of the document, and returned to my desk. I sat there bubbling in delight and in anticipation of handing the resignation letters to Bill and Shane.
I told my colleagues what happened, and my planned response and subsequent resignation. They all responded with shock and disgust at my sudden drop in pay, and supported my resignation. None of them had the same speech, nor had their salaries docked money. He thought he had me, the bastard. Wait until I give him this. I glided my hand over the freshly laser printed paper. I waited for them to arrive.
While waiting, I realised the hot secretary was looking at me, and twirling a lock of her long black hair around her finger. Of course, I would never date a colleague because of the potential for problems. However, as soon as I handed those two sheets of paper over to Shane and Bill, we would no longer be colleagues. My mind went off on a tangent to resigning, and I looked back at her and smiled.
Our moment was ruined by Bill pushed through the way, and walking to his desk. He sat down, and started work. Shane followed suit. I inhaled deeply, and stood. I picked up the two identical, signed sheets of paper. I walked over to Bill. I looked him in the eye, and smiled. I placed the sheet in front
of him. I walked over to Shane and placed my letter in front of him as well. I walked back to my desk, filled with glee.
I looked at Bill. He was reading through the letter. His face was impassive, completely unreadable. A hint of disappointment bubbled it’s way to the surface, and almost definitely played across my face. I was hoping for a much stronger reaction. He finally finished reading, nodded almost imperceptibly, and returned to his work. I felt cheated, but I also felt like I won the lottery. I sat back in my chair, as the 1 month countdown began.
Again, I began idly thinking about what would happen after 1 month. And what would happen after my visa ran out? Truth be told, I desperately wanted to stay in Japan. My entire life is in this country. All of my friends, my martial arts, my sports – my entire life. I had built an existence for myself in this strange foreign land, and I was loving it. I wasn’t ready to leave. I decided I would stay.
Japanese Immigration probably has some different ideas about that, I thought sullenly. I don’t fit into any of the work visa categories. I started to feel a bit down, but I quickly decided that I shouldn’t be focusing on a few months down the track. Or even how I would survive after I leave the company. Now was the time to celebrate leaving this goddamned shit job. I beamed a large smile. The secretary noticed, and beamed it back. I kicked back in my chair. Life is good.
“Firefly. Where are those updated Excel spreadsheets.” Bill shouted out, his dull voice imploding my giddy happiness. Oh fuck, one month to go, I thought. I swore quietly and loaded up Excel.