Recruiter In Korea

The Honest Truth About Recruiting in Korea

English Teachers Establish Labor Union in Incheon

with 6 comments

This from the Korea Times.

A labor union comprised of native English teachers working for a language institute or “hagwon” has been established in Incheon, a legal expert on labor representing them said Tuesday.

This is the second teachers’ union, said Jung Bong-soo. The first one was established in 2005 in Gangam, southern Seoul, according to the Ministry of Labor.

Jung said five native English teachers at a private language institute in Incheon were given approval to establish the union by a ward office on Nov. 24.

The union, headed by Lloye Evan from Australia, has nine members, he said. Native English teachers belonging to the institute are eligible to join, he added. The union head was unable to be immediately reached for comment.

A pattern of “unlawful” behavior by the employer – unpaid overtime and threats of dismissal – drove them to unionize, Jung said.

The five founding members decided to set up the union after the employer forced them to work 40 hours per week rather than 30 hours stipulated in their contract.

“Under the contract, the employer is supposed to pay an overtime rate of 15,000 won per hour. But the employer paid nothing,” Jung told The Korea Times in a phone interview. “In response to complaints about the unpaid overtime, the employer even verbally threatened to fire one of the five, who was a woman.”

They visited Jung’s office, KangNam Labor Law Firm, in southern Seoul in early September for consultations, leading to an investigation by a state labor inspector.

“The inspector acknowledged the teachers were forced to work additional hours without proper compensation and ordered the employer to pay,” he said.

That ruling, however, was not good enough for them because their relations with the employer turned sour with one of the five being laid off. The dismissed teacher plans to file a petition with the Ministry of Labor for her reinstatement.

“The other teachers involved in the dispute also fear similar retaliatory action,” Jung noted.

The expert refused to identify the language institute in question to protect the unionized teachers from further retaliation.

Yoo Mi-young, the labor inspector in charge of the case, said: “The number of petitions of this kind brought up by native English teachers here is on the increase.”

Ahn Kyu-seok, a spokesman for the Korea Immigration Service, said: “Their activities aimed at protecting and boosting their right as legitimate employees will be guaranteed by law, but any activities with political purposes will be prohibited as stipulated in the Immigration Law.”

A total of 22,905 foreign nationals are here on E-2 English teaching visas as of Oct. 31 this year, according to the Ministry of Justice. Of them, 134 overstayed their visa, the ministry said.

To be quite honest, I’m not sure how effective this will be. If you feel that your employer is cheating you, definitely pay a visit to the Labour Board. Having a union may garner more support for remedying unjustices, but in the end if you have a case, you can fight (and win) on your own.

I’ve heard of plenty of cases on Dave’s and from other recruiters where instructors were blatantly cheated out of pay, overtime, hours, etc. and have successfully won. Since our agency only tries to work with reputable schools, I haven’t seen many cases where the school has been shady with the above. However, there have been several cases with the schools that I work with where the instructor was in the wrong (usually dismissed for being a lousy instructor) and then had the gall to sue the schools for unfair dismissal. If you try to do this, I can guarantee you that you’ll surely lose!


Written by recruiterinkorea

December 9, 2009 at 10:16 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses

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  1. My question is, why go through the trouble? I mean, it’s clear you’re in a hostile work place. I can’t imagine the owner is real happy with you. I guess you can pat yourself on the back, but so frickin’ what?

    I’m wondering, but reading between the lines it seems that you can only have a union per workplace. Is that right? Or is it per employer? If it’s per employer, could SMOE or EPIK be looking at getting a teacher’s union? That would be interesting.


    December 9, 2009 at 11:37 pm

    • Very true. I can’t see why one would go through the trouble of keeping their job at a place where the boss screwed you over. Like it won’t happen again. It makes sense if SMOE/EPIK had unions as they’re so many of them (numbers speak) all falling under the realm of a few entities. From the article though, it does look like the group formed may have came from one employer. I agree that they should bond together if at least one of them is getting screwed (the hagwon isn’t going to can all their instructors) however, like you said, why go back to a hostile environment? Also of course, they all must be on the same page. If there’s even one outsider who sides with the school, it’s pretty much useless.


      December 10, 2009 at 12:07 am

  2. I think the issue here is the fact that they can’t change jobs without a letter of release. If it was easy to change jobs then so many people ould be doing it. Unless the rules have changed, I don’t know. Can you please clarify. Also, can you give me instructions on how to add blog roll.?


    December 10, 2009 at 4:47 am

    • Yeah, the pesky letter of release. I don’t want people to think it’s impossible to change jobs but it’s definitely a pain in the ass. Truth be told, schools are legally bound to issue letters of release. You just need to play your cards right: “Write me the letter now and I’ll work for x amount of days”. It can get trickier than that of course.

      I’m not sure of your next question. Did you want to add blogs to your blogroll? Simply go into your dashboard and on the left, under ‘Links’, click ‘Add New’. Then type in the address and title of the blog and check ‘blogroll’.

      Love your blog by the way; keep it up!


      December 11, 2009 at 12:11 pm

  3. I really enjoyed reading your blogpost, keep up creating such interesting stuff!


    January 2, 2010 at 12:16 pm

  4. […] the same bullshit manuevers that shady hagwons owners try to get away with here resulting in the establishment of labour unions.  I know that there are already labour unions for teachers in North America but aren’t they […]

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