Friday, October 2, 2009

Naughty hagwons being naughty...again

Here's the very, very shortened and paraphrased question:

I work for a school that has placed me in sub-standard living conditions, refused wage payment and constantly lies about everything from visas and taxes to refrigerators and roommates. I want to get out of this school, but don't know how as I have a visa. Also, I'm worried that if I do somehow manage to find a way out, I won't get my last months pay. This is not an option for me due to financial obligations back home. What should someone do in my position--I love Korea other than my school and want to stay?

I get emails like this one almost everyday and my reaction is always the same: When is the Korean government going to get serious about these kinds of shady practices and don't they realize that for every million spent on branding, five million is lost from poor treatment of teachers.

Getting a letter of release is crucial, but the questioner already tried that route in the form of "If you don't pay us, then you must release us." Still, it didn't work out since the director has probably been up to these shenanigans for years.

How to get out?

1) Keep a clear and detailed record of everything that has taken place while you've been working.

I say this because your hagwon probably assumes you're not and they're also hoping that once they pay you, the complaints will fade. You gotta hold on to pat stubs, emails, memos and anything else that you can use to pressure this school into not only releasing you, but to incriminate them when you contact the right people.

2) Stay strong and confident.

Since you have all of your records organized, go into the director's office as much as possible with your files in hand. I mean it. Go in there every damn day and sit down with them and just rail into them with facts. Directors like this are banking on the fact that teachers will just give up and leave, but that only makes it worse for teachers to come. Sure, they might try to laugh it off. They might try to paint a positive picture of what's going on, but you gotta remember that when Koreans laugh in serious situations it's not to express a relaxed confident attitude, rather it's covering up their embarrassment. If they laugh, then you pounce when they're vulnerable.

3) Call the Labor Board.

These guys are getting more organized and will certainly be able to take it to your director. Korea4expats writes this:

Complaints to Labor Board or Commission

An employee's complaint against her/his employer may be heard by either the Korean Labor Board or the Korean Labor Commission. The nature of the complaint determines which body will hear the case.

Types of cases
1) unpaid wages / unpaid severance pay / unpaid overtime pay
2) claim for sexual harassment cases
3) claim for industrial accident cases

Types of cases
1) Unfair Dismissal
2) Unfair Suspension / transfer / reduction wages
3) Unfair labor practices

Ministry of Labor Hotline:
Call 1350 and press 7 for English, between 9AM and 6PM

Ministry of Labor Website:

I hope that one day my inbox won't be filled with these complaints. I hope that employers will one day be held to the same standards that teachers are, but until then you've got to be organized, strong and connected. Final word: Contact the labor board and put the pressure on. You'll be surprised how fast they cave...


Chris in South Korea said...

Great advice - but don't expect the Labor Board to do everything for you. Be ready and willing to give them anything they need to make their case to a larger legal effort.

The Expat said...

Yep. Be smart and keep your records.

Amanda said...

The Labor Board has no teeth. I got a judgment for 2.3 million won. Two coworkers got judgments for 8 and 11 million won each. None of us ever got our money and the school owner was allowed to keep running her business.

Go to the LB, but don't expect anything to happen.

John from Daejeon said...

Amanda, I hope you listed that school on a couple of the Black Lists out there.

There are also some Green Lists for those that are A-OK.

Amanda said...

Three months after the whole fiasco she totally disappeared and the school closed down.

I fantasize that she jumped into the Han.

Anonymous said...

just leave the country after your most recent pay. then return and get a new visa with your new school. there is no waiting time to get the new visa. I know of a few people who have done this!

Anonymous said...

I had a friend who was told about 2.5 months into her contract that, due to lack of kids, that they no longer needed her (After firing her they then hired 2 more native speakers).

She went to the Labour Department and they said they could not do anything for her - They said that Korean companies have the right to dismiss anyone without reason within the first 3 months of employment.

Can anyone else confirm this?

Anonymous said...

The first two links don't work and when calling the MOL no one picks up the phone. Is there another way to get in contact with the MOL?


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Ok. This might seem like a shameless plug for my blog, but my friend is going through some serious %$#* right now. His boss owns him over 6mil won and he's trying to kick my friend out of his apartment.

We spent the day running around Incheon and making lots of phone calls. Here is what we found.

I'm not sure what will come of his, but this where you can find help.

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