So you have found a job in Korea and now you’re just oozing with excitement because your dreams have become actualized. You asked all the interview questions and you have scoured the web doing research on what to expect when you get here.
You are beaming, and filled with joy! As your plane touches down at Incheon international airport you are equal parts terrified, excited, confused, vulnerable and liberated. I know who you are. I know you, because I was you not so long ago.
I sincerely do not mean to scare you off from this wonderful, vibrant country I have now come to love and call home. I think everyone should get out of their comfort zone and live life in a foreign country. Get vulnerable, get confused, get lost, get dirty, open your eyes…it makes you appreciate everything and everyone you’ve left behind; leaps and bounds beyond any other experience you could possibly have in the comfort of familiarity.
The hagwon business is set in a unique corner within the world of education. It truly is unlike anything you might encounter in the realm of whatever employment venture you have sought in your home country.
If you don’t have your guard up and your wits about you, you will get taken advantage of in ways you never thought possible.
You must know your rights before you arrive at your first day of your new job- for your own good.
To me, this is a no brainer but alas, I have been in Korea for almost 10 months now. Though, even I never thought to research what my rights were, before accepting a position in another country…because I didn’t think the stories I had been reading about would happen to me. I thought I was being smart- asking what I did, because I had spent countless hours reading crazy expat stories.
In retrospect, the things I did and asked were right. I just didn’t know what was acceptable treatment from an employer employer. I didn’t know what should/should not be in my contract….
So, what are my rights as a foreign teacher in Korea?
WELL…the following are decreed by law:
- You must have at least 1 hour break if you are working 8 hours a day.
- The National Welfare Pension Law mandates that any company with 5 or more employees must register their employees in the national pension program. The employer and employee both contribute 4.5% of the employees monthly salary.
- If you have an accident of some kind that happened outside or inside of work, your employer must pay you 60% of your wages- unless they can prove you incurred the accident due to negligence.
- You cannot be fired unless: you have violated/ abused your children, you are neglecting your responsibilities, are teaching while intoxicated.
- If you are fired, they must give you 30 days notice to vacate your apartment. OR, they ask you to leave immediately and pay you an ordinary salary for 30 days.
- The employer must allow at least 1 day of paid holiday a week- aka at the bare minimum, you should have Sunday off. *working on Saturdays is a very common practice here.
- The employer must pay fifty percent or more of your hourly wage for any overtime work.
- The employer must give one day of paid leave per month, which can be accumulated for a one-time use or separate occasions. In addition to 10 days of paid leave each year for a teacher who has already been employed for at least a year.
- It is illegal for you to not have health insurance.
Some things to beware of in Korea:
- Security deposit Some schools state in a contract that teachers must pay an Apartment Security Deposit (ASD) of 60,000 won from their initial pay. This is not the case for the majority of hagwons, and it is likely that your employer will try and get out of paying that at the end of your contract. Should this be the case, it leaves the door wide open for more misconduct you may not be aware of.
- Vague conditions on actual working time A lot of hagwons will purposely try and mislead you with how many lessons you teach per week. Some will try to sneak in an extra class here or there that you did not agree to in your contract. Moreover, your contract will designate lessons as being- let’s say 45 minutes- and you will receive X won per hour as a result. You need to be sure how they define a working hour: is it prep time + class, or just classroom hours? If it’s just classroom time- you are only getting paid for the time you are actually in front of a class!
- I spoke of this in a previous post, because it is a very common malpractice! Make sure your hours are clear in that you both know the definition of a working hour, and what you will be paid for overtime work.
- Health Insurance Many employees believe they are getting health insurance because money is being taken out of their pay every month. Reasonable, but you have never gone to the hospital. Just picture this: A year later, you leave your job for a new one. Your new employer goes to register you with the NHIC but it is revealed that your old employer never paid anything. Surprise! It’s against the law for you not to be enrolled. Now, the NHIC won’t cover you until all back payments are paid. Be certain to obtain an actual health insurance card from your employer!!
- Dismissal 11 months into your contract Many employers will try to fire their employees 1 month before a contract ends (it is illegal for your contract to exceed 12 months) to prohibit teachers from receiving what they are due: severance and return airfare.
Most of this I knew from personal experiences, but if you would like more information on your rights etc, feel free to it check out for yourself. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with the site because there is a wealth of information at your fingertips!
There are other things you should be weary about, as well:
1. An important lesson I learned was to ask about the current state of you apartment before you get there. Ask a teacher what their opinion of the place is if you are not in Korea. If you are in the country for your interview, ask to see where you will be living! If you don’t like where you live, inquire about alternative living arrangements: can they offer you a stipend to live elsewhere?
2. This one seems to be a pretty obvious point, deserving a resounding “no duh” reply. Though I still feel it is worth mentioning. In your interview, you are being pitched and hopefully sold a product: your future job. Your boss is going to lure you with all these glamorous perks. It seems like a no brainer, but you really need to read your contract carefully and make sure that everything promised is in your actual contract before you sign! Once you do, you are not allowed to add or change anything.
3. While we are talking about contracts: they aren’t legally binding as they are in the USA, Canada et al. They are a rough draft- a jumping off point. There is an English copy of your contract and a Korean contract. A lot of hagwons will technically not be in violation of your contract because the Korean copy is worded differently than the English copy… but you signed both that first day. Even if you can’t read it, make sure to ask for a copy of the Korean contract!!
4. Keep a log of all your overtime work. Write down everything outside of your contract your boss asks you to do. I’m not saying you will be taken for granted at your job. I’m saying it is likely, and these are things you should be mindful of while heading into a contract. Know your rights, so that you know when to say no.
This is basically it for now, but if you feel like something else should be added to the list let me know! I love hearing your opinions and feedback- but as always “let’s be nice now, children!”