Saturday, September 12, 2009

CWI: Educo(n) - (3)

Over the last few weeks and days, we here in CWI have flagged the issue of concern in relation to Educo which is owned and operated by Tony Quinn so it is not to be mixed up with Educo which is a registered charity with the Revenue Commissioners here in Ireland.

To avoid such a mix up, and to aptly identify this organisation, based upon the information we have received in the last few weeks and days, we shall hereafter identify it as Educo(n)…as the saying goes if the cap fits (and it does)…

Our investigation remains open and ongoing, mainly due to the incoming information and correspondence and will remain as such until perhaps state action is taken in regard to the operating of this organisation which has cult status in the eyes of many.

Also, we are aware that another Educo(n) seminar is due to be held in the RDS Concert Hall, Dublin 4, this Sunday, September 13th 2009, with a view to also extending Educo(n) franchises to Los Angeles, Australia and with a view to rejuvenating and expanding their ‘operations’ in the North of Ireland, after initial and notable failures.

The information we present hereunder is only an insight into one particular aspect of the operations of this organisation but it should serve as a warning to all those interested in attending this seminar and what may happen thereafter.

Every allegation / claim made in this substantial article can be independently verified at various levels, and has been legally cleared for publishing, with the original, certifying documents being held by our legal representatives.

We have made 26 telephone calls in an attempt to offer the usual right to adjust, challenge, rectify or otherwise with the information we have to had, but at the time of publishing this article no response has thus far been received from Educo(n).

We present the article to you as follows, in chronological order:

RED: these are the facts as presented to us in reams and from the interviews carried out with the persons concerned

WHITE: is the CWI contribution / comment on aforementioned facts

The names of people associated with this particular article are all real, as are indeed the companies, thus verifiable.

They are, as follows:

Tina Fearon - Managing Director of Freespirit Franchise – as well as a Educogym Franchisee

Tony Quinn - Tina Fearons business partner (Freespirit) as well as being the Educogym Franchisor (Advisor)

Donna Byrne - (Area Manager)

Joe Whelan - (Company Creative Director) acting as Belfast’s General Manager

Carryduff Manager and owner - Brenda

If, after reading this article, you have any queries, comments, concerns etc, follow the instructions post article and we will endeavour to be of assistance as much as possible.

* * * * *

Since its inception, Educo(n) has always seemed to have a pall of mystery and distrust about it, and over the last few years this has become more noticeable with online chatrooms and articles which are very much questioning of the whole operation of this ‘organisation’ and its affiliates et al.

Educo(n) hosts what it terms as seminars in hotels, usually in Ireland and UK, which in fact are nothing more than gatherings of people who are ‘sold’ the whole idea and concept of the Educo(n) way of doing things which could be truly defined as mind over matter or their control over your money to be more precise.

These ‘seminars’ go on for 2 – 3 hours at a time, and subsequent to this presentation, dependant upon your interest, you can have an interview with one of the many Educo(n) franchisee’s present.

However, be under no illusion about this ‘interview’ whish is supposed to determine your capability and suitability as a personal trainer, but in fact is nothing short of a 20 minute general chit chat with no questions asked whatsoever about your qualifications in the area of physical health.

The person who ‘interviews’ is a franchisee of an Educo(n) facility who is seeking staff to replace those who have parted company with Educo(n) for either of 2 reasons, more of which anon.

It is only at this point of the day is the whole issue of finance raised, which, to say the least, is disingenuous of Educo(n), but in reality, it is truly only the beginning of the deception.

Those who have given us their version of events which comprise this posting, had responded to a job opportunity advertised online and attended a ‘seminar’ in Dublin in the Fitzwilliam Hotel on 8th March 2008.

They attended the ‘interview’ thereafter, and a matter of some days later, received correspondence from Ms Maria Johnston of Maria J Recruitment, with an address of 29, Church Street, Warrenpoint, County Down.

The letter indicates it having been written “on behalf of Tina Fearon, Managing Director of Free Spirit Salons and Educogym,” and offering the person(s) “the position of ‘Personal Trainer’ within Educogym.” (unquote)

It should be noted at this juncture that there is a credible, certifiable and verified commission-based relationship between Maria J Recruitment and Educo(n) and with an even closer business relationship between Educo(n) and Free Spirit salons – a relationship which becomes even more obvious later in this article.

The aforementioned letter goes on to state “your training will begin on the 2nd of April for 4 weeks. (I will forward you all flight details at a later date). On return of training, we may have to place you within one of our existing gyms in Dublin until the Educogym in Northern Ireland opens. I will confirm it at a later date.” (unquote)

Of course, one could only become a member of staff in an Educo(n) gym once they had undergone the training required (as deemed necessary by Educo(n)) which would take place, over 4 weeks, in the Bahamas.

Another letter – undated and unsigned – but again issued by Maria Johnston, recruitment manager, on behalf of Ms Tina Fearon, Educogym (Free Spirit Managing Director and Educogym franchisee) – accompanied a contract of employment pre-signed by aforementioned Ms Fearon.

This unsigned and undated letter requested the recipient to “sign the end page and return the full contract to our head office at your earliest convenience.” (unquote)

It should be noted that the head office address being given by Ms Johnston in above quoted correspondence is no longer in use as the ‘company’ had to ‘downsize’.

Although not stating how much, the letter goes on to ask the recipient to “make payment to Educogym Ltd. and forward cheque by post to the following person at the accompanying address:

Ms Tina Fearon, Educogym, (Free Spirit MD and Educogym Franchisee), Free Spirit Head Office, Unit 11, Block 5, Port tunnel Business Campus, CLONNSHAUGH, Dublin 17.” (unquote)

As it turned out, the cost of this particular jaunt to the Bahamas came close to the tune of €10,000, which was to include hotel, flight and food whilst in the Bahamas.

According to those who took part, it literally was a matter of handing over money to their (Educo(n)) right hand while the left hand gave you your ticket.

However, all was not well with the contract provided by Educo(n), which seems to be a generic contract of employment, ever so slightly adjusted, and ONLY VALID IN THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND, and therefore null and void outside that particular jurisdiction as attested to by a Appeals Tribunal, many of which Educo(n) is currently the subject of investigation.

Section 13: Restrictive Covenant – in sections (a) and (b) makes direct reference to the term Republic of Ireland, and in

Section 17: Applicable Law states “This Agreement and all rights and obligations of the parties shall be governed and construed in accordance with the laws of the Republic of Ireland and the parties hereto irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of the Republic of Ireland.” (unquote)

What this actually means, and has unfortunately meant, is that Educo(n) exploits the lax laws of the Republic of Ireland to carry on such immoral and illegal behaviour knowing that for someone outside the jurisdiction of the Republic of Ireland would face costs – far in excess than those sought and owed – in an attempt to get justice.

Perhaps the Ministers of Justice and Finance – Dermot Ahern and Brian Lenihan respectively – may care to take a look at this and do something about such exploitation of both citizens and laws.

Having received the contract, it became apparent that there were serious issues of concern, issues which required clarifications and possible amendments.

Such issues were as follows:

1. Lack of detail in relation to starting date, venue of employment whereas the contract only provided for a commencement date “ to be determined by me provided that it is not more than eighteen (18) months from the date of this agreement (or such longer period as may be mutually agreeable) and that I give you not less than two (2) weeks notice in writing.” (unquote)

2. “Very nature and place of employment” – this was somewhat agreed at the ‘interview’ of 8th March 2008, but had to be formally clarified and mutually accepted by both parties.

3. Probationary Period – “is subject to a probationary period of six (6) months…during which I may terminate this Agreement. This begs the question of such a clause when it would be in an investors own interest to ensure the capitalisation of their generous investment of €10,000.

4. Hours / Shifts – as would be expected, a full devotion / commitment to a 40 hour week would be standard, but it is the following which is both notable and questionable “in addition you may be expected to work in the evenings or at weekends as may be necessary from time to time in order to discharge your duties and functions hereunder. Any additional remuneration for work performed outside your normal hours is entirely at my discretion.” (unquote)

These last words certainly raise questions in relation to the rights of workers and the exploitation of them by employers / franchisees. Certainly this merits attention by Minister Mary Coughlan, under whose remit such issues would lie.

As the persons in this particular case were going to be taken on in a full time basis, the reference to part-time employment is somewhat questionable and raises further serious concerns.

Salary was payable weekly in arrears, and for those in part-time, “the basic salary and any sales related bonus shall be paid pro-rata to the number of hours worked.”

Most worryingly of all is the following paragraph:

“I shall, to the extent permitted by law, by (sic) entitled to deduct from your salary all sums from time to time owed by you to me and in all events to deduct all such sums due upon termination of your employment…” (unquote)

This was, and remains, worrying as the only lawfully permitted deductions would be PAYE / PRSI / NI and nowhere in the contract does it mention any other lawfully determined deductions so as this contract issues under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Ireland, such deductions should be listed with appropriate amounts attached.

This is another area of the contract which is flawed, rendering it null and void even before a signature would be applied to it by any person.

The following paragraph is also questionable in law:

9. Revenue Shortfall: I reserve the right to deduct from your salary any shortfall in revenue received where such shortfall is due to your actions, carelessness or failure to follow established procedures.

This is a dangerous piece of the contract requiring caution as this could criminalize a person without recourse to due process and one being innocent until proven otherwise.

Rightly, the persons spoken to in the course of this investigation were not formally advised nor trained in area of ‘banking’, nor were they willing to accept total responsibility for the actions of others accessing revenue for whatever purposes and intentions.

Those who made the investment of €10,000 were advised at a meeting in the Westbury Hotel that they would have this investment reimbursed over 3 years minimum, beginning as soon as employment commenced with Educo(n).

This is beginning to sound like a pyramid scheme, and let it be noted that those concerns raised in relation to the contract were never – nor since – addressed by Educo(n).

The trip to the Riu Hotel (believed to be part owned by Tony Quinn) on Paradise Island in the Bahamas was to prove eventful in its own right as nearly 3 weeks into the ‘training’, with letters being placed under the doors of some at the ‘training’ threatening them with eviction for non-payment of hotel rooms et al, but when this was brought to the attention of Educo(n) staff, they advised those participants not to worry.

However, it continued unabated and those participants receiving such threats were quietly advised to sign their contracts and it would all be settled.

No doubt those who received such letters were in serious fear of being evicted and abandoned abroad for non-payment of facilities which they understood from their contract to have been covered by their contribution of €10,000.

This is nothing short of disgraceful manipulation and blackmail with intimidation thrown in just in case the message was not getting through – subsequently followed by a mass signing of contracts which therefore places people under duress to sign such contracts.

“signing of contract was not of own volition (wish, will, decision, choice, desire, preference) but was as a result of duress (coercion, compulsion, force, threat) arising from the insistence of Educo(n) during the training abroad which coincided with demands from accommodation provider, fears of possible eviction and even being stranded abroad.

The ‘training’ in the Bahamas consisted of a 2 week seminar which was Mind Technology, and is cited as following in the contract – “under the franchise agreement with Educo Multi-gym Ltd (the “Franchisor (Free Spirit)”) I have a contractual obligation to ensure the proper training of all employees in the use of the Educo Multi-gym, and the operating system. For this purpose, all Educo Fitness Instructors must undergo an initial two week Educo seminar on mind technology followed by a two week personal training seminar.

At no time was ANY direct or even indirect link made between this ‘mind technology’ and its relevance to the whole area of fitness instruction.

However, the participants had to promote the gym, food supplements and of course, the Educo(n) system, ensure the proper working order of Educo(n) gym apparatus, instruct gym members in use of Educo(n) training apparatus,dealing with payments, stock control, making bank lodgements (despite not being trained in this area and general upkeep and maintenance.

What was also NOT mentioned in any documentation was the requirement of the participants to sell the Mind Technology seminars with a €5,000 commission per person (now we know where some of the €10,000 goes) but if this is not the reason for one being a member of the Educo(n) system then ostracisation occurs which then leads to the financial incentive of Educo(n) to dismiss the participant whilst holding on to their investment of €10,000.

When the participants returned home, there was an initial 2 week period during which there was nothing for them to do despite being paid for such, and they would have preferred to have been doing something, but nothing was available. The new venue had opened in Belfast with the promise that one would also be opening in Craigavon which would be better placed to offer more positions – there were 22 now beginning employment in total in Belfast.

But from the start, there was not enough work to keep everyone going, which received the attention of Ms Tina Fearon who upon one of her visits to Belfast brought the staff to what could be described as a well to do area and asked the staff to guess how much the Jaguars and BMWs there would amount to, and that it was the duty of the staff to persuade such people to ‘downsize’ on their lifestyles and ‘convince’ them of the benefits of joining Educo(n) as it would also mean more commission (i.e. money).

One thing which Educo(n) is noted for is its lack of advertising which inevitably means there is no selling of its products resulting in a lack of work for those who have made such a commitment and investment to Educo(n), but this was also compounded by the fact that Educo(n) could also become ruthless towards people who they felt were questioning.

Life could be made difficult to the extent that some left or were forced to leave due to the intransigence of Educo(n) which was all manipulated leaving Educo(n) with the investment and none of the liability which was now left to the persons who were now financially liable to their banks for money now effectively swindled out of them by Educo(n).

At no time did the franchisee in Belfast go out of their way to ensure there was enough work for all persons there which was fast dwindling from 22 persons down to 3.

Only 5 of the original 22 were Gym staff, only gym staff had to make this contribution, Free Spirit saloon staff had no financial ties with the company and did not attend the seminar.

The number of 3 refers to 2 gym staff and 1 Beauty, gym staff later to be dismissed in April, leaving only 1 employee from the original 22.

Staff from other Free Spirit branches had been made to man the Belfast shop till new recruits where taken on board.

Sometimes staff would be glorified cleaners / leaflet droppers which is not exactly a decent return on an investment of €10,000, but they never failed to get the weekly bollicking from Ms Fearon for failure to get the business in the door but yet they were expressly forbidden from advertising.

The Craigavon franchise was due to open in mid-June 2008 (4-6 weeks post Belfast opening) but this failed to materialise so staff were offered transfers to Dublin BUT no renumeration would be made so as to enable this to occur.

At this stage the staff numbers in Belfast had gone down to 3 and only the gym staff contract whereas the salon staff (Free Spirit i.e. Ms Tina Fearon) had none whatsoever despite their seeking such contracts on repeated occasions but never materialised.

A new Area Manager was appointed at this time, whose job was to be deliberately confrontational and force people from their jobs which she was somewhat successful with, but some were to suffer in ways which are indeed questionable.

We here in CWI are aware of people recruited as Gym Managers later demoted to Personal Trainer and later made redundant, left with the Debt of Training Fees.

Also, a fellow Personal Trainer later made redundant and left with the Debt of Training Fees, "for no apparent reason" these two parties where made to work 14 hours days, alternating days to keep the gym operational.

Staff objections were ignored and then letters of staff grievances were drawn up but again all were rebuffed in what would be best described as an orchestrated attempt by Educo(n) to force people from the positions and leaving them with the debts of their investment.

We have become aware in one particular situation whereby a member of staff was transferred to another Educo(n) facility but without the foreknowledge or consent of the staff in that particular venue and it was only due to the communicating of the staff member with the venue was it resolved.

This member of staff was dismissed by phone by Ms Tina Fearon on 10th November 2008 with any regard for the following:

Clause 11 of the contract does state that “your employment can be terminated by me the issuing of notice of termination of not less than one week or payment of one weeks wages in lieu thereof.”

However, CWI has carried out an investigation which has discovered that Educo(n) has

* NEVER in its time been known to issue letters of termination to MOST of its staff;

ALWAYS written on the record of those who leave its employ the word MISCONDUCT but NEVER carried out an investigation to prove this to be the case despite this being in the contract;

NEVER issued either written or verbal warnings in most of the cases of alleged misconduct by its staff;

Falsely claimed that there is an access ban against ex-staff from entering its premises and also

Falsely claimed that case files have been opened against such ex-staff with the PSNI (Northern Ireland Police Force) of which we can now state categorically THERE ARE NO SUCH FILES OPEN NOW OR AT ANY SUCH TIME WITH THE PSNI;

Failed to provide those staff who seek through repeated requests the reasons in writing for their dismissal;

Normal 0 We have become acutely aware of the distress of this situation for all those who were taken in by Educo(n) and this has impacted in ways such as

Misconduct on the termination notice has prevented the execution of the insurance policy on credit cards;

Inability to meet payments of loan has affected credit rating (which is shared amongst financial institutions);

Stress (financial, emotional);

Debt of loan

All of this has left people in a position whereby

they have no certificate of training with Educo(n) which are not internationally recognised as is anyway,

they cannot (according to a rather questionable contract) become engaged in any business which may compete with the franchise within a 30 mile radius of where they were previously ‘employed’

there are cases still being taken through the Tribunals by those who were also treated in such a cavalier attitude by Educo(n).

We here in CWI cannot emphasise enough to all those who feel that Educo(n) may be for them to BEWARE!!!