Recently, a number of hogwans (private academies) around Ulsan have stopped paying their teachers, often in the 10th or 11th month of their contract. Sometimes, it’s because the school isn’t doing well, and money is tight. Other times, the director is just a greedy bastard who doesn’t want to pay. Regardless of the reason, all of the directors are looking at the upcoming expenses – salary, severance, flight, recruiter for the next teacher, the new teacher’s flight – and deciding that they’d rather not fork out that kind of cash. Many times they assume that foreign teachers won’t know their rights, or won’t be in the country long enough to deal with it. While we have the short answer to this problem in the Official Word section, the recent spate of questions on our Facebook group has prompted more detailed. I’d like to thank the group members for helping to compile the following advice.
If you find yourself caught in this unfortunate situation, don’t despair. And definitely don’t stop going to work – that just gives the director cause for not paying you. Instead, contact the Labor Board for legal recourse. You can fill out an e-application or you can visit the local office in Okdong (see below for directions).
1. Your pay must be more than 2 weeks late before you can make a claim. They can only work on what you are currently owed, not what you will be owed, so wait until your contract is complete, if you’re near the end. If it happens early in your contract, go right away. If the situation doesn’t improve, you may be able to get released from that visa (in order to find a better job) with proof you’ve been filing complaints through the Labor Board.
2. You can designate someone to act on your behalf if you’re leaving or have left the country. If possible, ask a Korean friend, to help cut down on language barriers. If you are still in Korea, you can get a Notary Public to help with the needed documents to transfer your power of attorney. If you’re back home, you’ll need to visit a Korean Consulate to fill out the necessary paperwork.
3. The Labor Board only deals with your lost wages, so you may not be able to recover payment for flights. However, if your boss buys the flight, and then deducts the cost of it from your paycheck, then the Labor Board can help.
4. Bring with you a copy of your contract (you can get one from immigration if you don’t have a copy of your own), your Alien Registration Card (ARC), any bank statements that show previous payments made and lack of payments now, and any pay-stubs you may have. Basically, you need to prove what you’re owed.
The Labor Board is located in Okdong, near the Grand Park (check the Interactive Map, under “Government”). The phone number is 052-272-0009 (probably Korean only) or the national help line is 1350.
While we’d love to publicly name and shame the horrible directors who do this, Korean libel laws are rather harsh, and you can be sued even if what you’re saying is true. Also, hogwans often change names once they’ve established a poor reputation, and directors come and go, making it very difficult to keep track of which schools should be avoided. If you are coming over to work here, please know that this is a minority of schools, but always try to contact a current teacher there to find out if there have been any problems. If the director or recruiter refuses to connect you with someone who’s working there, proceed with caution.
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