TBI: Where Teachers Are an Unwanted Expense

Over the past week or so, we have focused on the fact that TBI Bandung keeps losing teachers to Penabur due to offering a very low salary of just Rp. 11-12 jt. per month. With this post we want to look at the long history of these low wages outside Jakarta; additionally, we want to explore what they reveal about TBI’s true attitude toward its teaching staff. Clever readers will not be surprised to read that they reveal a resentful attitude towards foreigners/expats from the Indonesian Senior Management at TBI, with serious xenophobic undercurrents. The basic attitude is as follows: If Indonesian teachers are willing to work for Rp3-4 million a month, why should we have to pay expats more? In addition, these low wages reveal the all-pervading cheapness of the TBI authorities. Rather than seeing teachers as an asset, and a crucial aspect of their ability to run a profitable business, they see them as nothing but an expense. The mantra has long been whittling down the number of expensive expat teachers and replacing them with low-cost locals. In short, this whole issue reveals them to be a “money over people” type of company, with a short-term, greedy mentality that has greatly eroded their reputation in recent years.

$800 a Month at TBI Malang

Until the end of 2012, TBI Malang was run as a joint venture with a prominent Indonesian company (which had other projects in the education sector). It was run by an Indonesian manager who had achieved some notable successes. In particular, he had landed the biggest business contract in the history of TBI, a half-a-billion rupiah a year contract with Bentoel, the tobacco group. You would think that landing such a massive project would have earned this manager, GM, a good reputation. Far from it. It had earned him the uncontrollable envy of Luke Preece and Mariam, who for all their boasting and preening had never achieved anything in that ball park. I recall receiving a group email in which Mariam boasted of the contract to all managers without mentioning TBI Malang once: she claimed credit for GM’s success and tried to pass it off as her own. This is petty, undiginifed, dishonest behaviour from a Director; but no one who knew Mariam, a gaffe-prone narcissist, would have expected anything else. Stealing credit for other’s successes is the least of her sins. Yet TBI’s pettiness did not end there. Not content with taking credit for GM’s business acumen, she also made life hell for him by insisting that he could pay native Speakers no more than a miserable Rp.10 jt per month (around $900 at 2012 exchange rates.)

TBI Malang’s Recruitment Woes

According to the manager of the “old” TBI Malang, it was just about impossible to get Native Speaker teachers to work for him for Rp 10 juta per month. It was simply too low and the applicants he got would eventually turn him down for better-paid jobs elsewhere. He complained again and again about the low salary and appealed to Head Office to lift it, but again and again his wise pleas fell on deaf ears. Behind the scenes, Luke Preece was actually conducting one of his vicious smear campaigns against GM, the TBI Malang manager, trying to get Mariam to him to fire her so that he could appoint one of his obedient cronies. Far from being cherished as a person who could bring in a $50,000 a year contract, GM has viewed as an obstacle in Luke’s attempt to hijack TBI, and Luke was working remorselessly to force him out. Luke’s lowest act was alleging that GM was a “criminal mastermind of a robbery at his own school” just because he took 4 hours to report a break-in there. Making wild accusations on zero evidence was long Luke’s style. This scheme failed, but it showed that the knives were long out for GM.

In this context, it is interesting that Luke and Mariam insisted that GM could pay a mere Rp 10 jt salary to Native Speaker teachers- the lowest figure for any TBI school. They had been told it was making recruitment difficult, but they refused to budge. Even the Rp .11-12 jt. range at TBI Bandung would have made life easier. Yet perhaps it is wrong to attribute these low wages entirely to the dishonest and vindictive character of Luke and Mariam. That played a huge part, but there is also the cheapness factor to consider. TBI were paying peanuts in Bandung too- a mere $900 to $1000 a month, which is truly rock-bottom for the industry. In short, it is impossible to know how much the low salary was down to the vindictive desire of Luke to hamstring one of his ‘enemies’ and how much was down to the miserable cheapness of Mariam. The two vices, cheapness and malice, have worked hand in hand so often at this miserable “institute”.

TBI Bandung 2014: Still Cheap After All These Years

So we have learned that TBI managers were complaining back in 2011 that the wages were just too low, and it was making recruitment next to impossible. Move forward to 2014 and what has changed? Surely, you would think, they would have learned that they are getting a reputation as a cheapskate and have raised wages to deal with the problem. After all, they have had 4 years to listen to their managers and staff and make suitable adjustments. Alas, Tudor has been online saying that as of August 2014, they are continually losing staff to Penabur in Bandung because they are only paying Rp11-12jt., which is not a competitive salary. In short, they have spent 4 years ignoring their managers and staff, thinking, as always, that they know better.

So what does this tell us about TBI? For one thing, they are absolutely deaf to criticism. They have been told by their managers for years that they don’t pay enough, but they would rather blame their recruitment problems on the Education Department regulations or even, ludicrously, this blog. They are simply not capable of learning from their mistakes, which indicates a high degree of arrogance. But apart from arrogance, there is also the greed factor. Mariam and her cronies see teachers as nothing more than an unjustifiable expense. They have seized every opportunity to replace “expensive” expat teachers with locals. Further, they have routinely got rid of old expat teachers so they don’t have to give them raises. What you are seeing is the short-term mindset that sees teachers as an expense rather than an asset. And it is this greed, along with their deafness, which has crippled them for so long.

TBI's mascot, Tiby

TBI’s mascot, Tiby

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