China: staff and students lose out in WEBI shutdown

Published 21/10/2019

Thousands of workers have been left unpaid and students without reimbursement following the sudden closure of Web International English, one of China’s largest English language learning course providers.

Launched in 1998, Web International English had over 150 centres across the country, with a presence in more than 60 cities. According to its website, as of July 2018, it had one million students.

“Because of staff changes, at present we don’t have everyone’s salary data for September”

“From the start of last year, due to a variety of both internal and external reasons, our track record has continued to decline, costs have risen and company operations have become more difficult,” said CEO Gao Weiyu in a letter published through the company’s WeChat account on October 12.

“We have made efforts including evolving strategy, revising the framework, making partnerships and additional borrowing from shareholders, hoping that the company could tide over a difficult time.”

The PIE News spoke with a former Web International English employee who said that the company had cut everyone’s salaries in August but did not announce the shutting down of the company until just after China’s national day celebrations earlier this month. Wages from September are yet to be paid.

“We don’t think we will get a penny,” the employee told The PIE, explaining that he had already visited his local labour bureau in the hope that they will be able to recover his lost wages.

“The company knew that they had these problems, but they still kept on recruiting students,” he added.

Gao did address the payment issue in his letter, as well as praising employees for not quitting when their salaries were reduced.

“We will draw up back pay certificates for employees. Because of staff changes, at present we don’t have everyone’s salary data for September. If there are any HR staff who wish to come back and calculate everyone’s salaries, we can get the data all recorded and then we can issue pay retroactively,” he said.

Students were also left in the lurch, with some only realising the company was having financial trouble when their teachers started quitting.

In Shanghai, the company has made arrangements for students over the age of 18 to continue their classes with competitor English First, and is currently looking at other options for the rest of their students. It is not currently known if this arrangement will be extended to other cities in China.

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