Counting down the days

Two and half weeks left.  12 schooldays at my crappy little hagwon.  16 days until I am done with this place for good!  I’ve already moved about half of my things to my new apartment and just ordered my new bed!  It should be delivered this weekend which means I’ll start sleeping there soon.  Definitely on the weekends; I’ll probably move in for good and commute for the last week.

Last payday at noon they told us we’d be paid by about 6 or 7 pm.  A few hours late but acceptable considering the last one was more than 2 weeks late!   By 9 pm there was a fit of rage texts going around a group chat with our accounts still drearily low.  A new foreigner in the building from 5-6pm was hidden from our view and not allowed to talk to us helped everyone arrive at the realization they just didn’t want us complaining about the pay in front of a new hire.  Plans for how to respond ranged from going straight to the ministry of labor to not going in, having a sit in or flat out quitting.  Fortunately when I woke up at 7am I found out we were paid around midnight.  Things have settled down slightly after our “on time” payday.

No one knows what the delay was about but we’ve been guess it has to do with the sale not going through.  That means our best friend [school owner] is still responsible for paying us.  At least he came through without waiting 2 weeks this time.  For me there’s not much else to worry about.  Even if the next paycheck is late its the last thing he owes me and I’ll be done with this whifferninny.

My coworkers who are owed a severance aren’t so sure things will go smoothly.  We were told that we “don’t have to come in on February 28th,” even though their contracts say they work until the 28th.  When we check our academic calendar the 28th is listed as “vacation” but the Korean teachers have to work and we were told its a required day for anyone staying next year.  Well, none of us are staying so we presume there’ll be new staff and they don’t want us to share our stories.

Then we got to thinking about the severances again.  Technically if we don’t work a full year we aren’t owed severances.  That means I’m obviously not owed one but everyone else is.  After some quick googling we discovered that the law states severance isn’t owed if we work even 1 day too few.  Guess that means everyone will clock in that Friday morning to guarantee severance. Continue reading

Still working, still no pay

For those of you following the travesty that is my current workplace I want to reassure you that its still full of things that are so awful that the only thing I can do is laugh.  So yeah, why not call it funny.  Its more politically correct than telling my boss he’s a scumbag(or thief, which I may or may not call him every time he passes me in the hallway.)  Don’t worry, he doesn’t speak English.

Last Friday most of my coworkers met the buyer and future owner of our school. (I took a “sick” day for my birthday).  He allayed some of the fears and spoke a little English but the meat and potatoes of his conversation was still “trust me.”  Maybe he doesn’t need to tell us exactly where he’s getting the money from but he assured everyone that he would be pay us whatever he owes us.  Who pays us depends when the sale actually occurs.  Whoever the owner is on payday is responsible for paying us that paycheck.

The new guy at least showed some signs of intelligence (which the current owner has failed to do) when he mentioned he won’t be buying the company unless all the bills have been paid.  Unfortunately the only difference that made was 2 months worth of pension pay.  We are still owed 3 more months of pension and lets not forget the remaining 2/3 of our latest paychecks.

Most of the teachers have been showing a significant number of Disney movies and doing the bare minimum, perhaps less.  I’ve stopped my centers and phonics lessons.  I do the bare minimum bookwork required and give a lot of playtime.  It makes me a little sad for when I’ll have a job I actually care about and go back to doing real work. Many of us are leaving after our last class rather than desk warming until 6:00 everyday.

I wrote this yesterday, January 21st, our latest “maybe payday” we were told but alas the accountant is MIA.  The CEO is MIA and so are our paychecks.  We’ve lost any remaining faith in this guy’s ability to pay us and are trying to figure out how to best play our cards.

After repeated talks with a lawyer and the ministry of labor their best advice is to keep working and file a formal complaint.  The only problem is the formal complaint puts our jobs in jeopardy so we thought we’d wait until March so we don’t get fired early.

Today we found out the CEO told the Koreans we’d be paid “Friday or maybe next week.”  In the foreigner meeting they told us we’d be paid “maybe tomorrow.”  This contradiction increases the feeling of being strung along.  Oh and did I mention the CEO has fled the country?  Maybe he’s on a business trip?  Maybe he’s on vacation?  Maybe he’s putting all our money into a Swiss bank account?  All I know is I don’t trust him.

I don’t know what to do but I told the principal I am going to the ministry of labor first thing in February if we aren’t paid.  Plus I decided to leave a note in the CEO’s office for whenever (if) he returns.

I just keep telling myself 23 more days!

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Half a paycheck, still no pension

Payday should be on the 5th of every month.  We accepted that we wouldn’t get it before our week off so thought the paychecks would be deposited the day of our return on January 6th.  Wrong.  Today is Friday and this whole week we’ve been working without pay, and have gotten zero answers about our pension accounts.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I called the National Pension office and confirmed that my account in fact has ₩0 in it.  So I’ve got that going for me.

A friendly letter with clearly stated advantages & disadvantages of diligent payment was drafted.  It outlined how employee morale has bottomed out highlighting the stress of not being paid, the revelation about our fraudulent pensions and the uncertainty of the future.  It further stated that the simple solution to avoid complications at the school was to adhere to our contractual payday.

I really wanted to have this translated and left on the boss’ desk but I was out voted.  Only myself and the author were willing to sign our names.  I guess it doesn’t bother me too much since I didn’t really think there would be any effect other than some angry Korean.  It was more of a symbolic olive branch to try and fix the problems while helping our CEO see the benefit to a good business practice aka paying his employees.

Its bad enough on a normal Monday morning but everyday past our payday it grows harder and harder to remain motivated to do any work and to come each in morning.  I look forward to leaving this job in a way I have never before experienced.  I chalk most of the trouble up to the language barrier and cultural differences.  If Mr. Bae spoke any English or we spoke Korean well enough to have a conversation perhaps he could convince us what he was doing made sense.  Well, no chances are it would make me hate him even more if I understood what he was saying.

As a result of the stress and uncertainty we have had some interesting developments.  This week there have been a handful of absences; they can largely be attributed to catching viruses like the devil I brought back from the Philippines but I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two were directly related to the lack of pay.  I know I’m planning on taking at least 1 ‘sick’ day next week to give myself a 3-day weekend for my birthday and am certain the remaining 7 weeks will include coworkers following suit.

The unfortunate side of a teacher calling in sick is that we are required to give up our prep periods to sub.  Today that backfired on one of our administrators.  Roughly 10 minutes before the class started (the teacher has been absent all day yet they waited until the last minute to ask) they approached a teacher with a prep this afternoon asking her to cover.  It got a little ugly when she refused; stating significant work (including a private school application) and the intent to visit the doctor since she had been sick.

As teachers we can’t understand why our principal doesn’t cover on these occasions.  Her main responsibility is to develop our curriculum (which she fails to do) and online shops or chats on her phone most of the day.  She deals with parents when the need arises but usually pawns that responsibility off to our coteachers who are on the phone most of the school day as a result.  Well, anyway a screaming match ensued in the hallway; it was exacerbated by both parties lack of pay and resulted in a “warning” letter which was mistranslated as a “call to immigration.”

Continue reading

My new mantra – “2 more months!”

I apologize for interrupting your regularly scheduled programming of travel and leisure to bring you back to a show we recently canceled and are re-airing as “2 more months!”  At least this time my principals had the good will to inform us first thing in the morning that we wouldn’t be paid on time.  We “might get paid by Thursday” when the 5th was technically payday at CPIS.

In other news we also found out the owner/CEO (aka guy who causes all the problems) has been stealing our pensions.  Yep, he takes it from our paycheck but not only fails to deposit his matching share but fails to deposit anything into our pension accounts.  The pension money isn’t a huge sum but its even more of a slap in the face from this asshole.

The sliver of good news was that we were given permission to have “more play time” today; you better believe every student had a blast today.  Even without the most recent salary shenanigans we were all beat from our trips and planned for an easy day.   I’m fighting off what I hope is simply a cold I brought back from the Philippines and I know I wasn’t alone in being exhausted on this lovely Monday morning.

At the end of the day I was planning on meeting with my coworkers to discuss our plan of action when the director called me into her office.  Her first order of business was a suggestion from the accountant that she deduct the airfare from my salary to which I flat out refused.  I reminded her that there was no chance of any transaction without a documented receipt and used this as an segway to bring up the pensions.

“I have to check my pension and my paycheck but based on some of my coworkers it appears that [the owner] has been deducting our pensions from our monthly pay but failing to deposit the money in our actual pension.  That’s stealing.  I understand the school may be having troubles and while I am quite angry the paychecks are delayed, again, I can understand.  He is blatantly stealing our pensions and we won’t stand for it.” Continue reading

Accepting a new contract!

Last Friday I finally got my letter of release!  I immediately emailed it over to Young Hoon Elementary and first thing Monday morning I had a contract sitting in my inbox.  That was yesterday.  I looked it over and printed it out before giving it to one of the office assistants to fax.  Now its Tuesday and I got my “welcome to Young Hoon” email!

Its such a huge weight off my shoulders to know that not only will I be able to leave my current atrocity of a “school” but that I’ve got a great job lined up with a month of summer and winter vacations!  I don’t know what age I’ll teach yet but I asked for 4th grade and  I’ll be working with 3 of my current coworkers (Susan, Sara, & Brian).  We are apartment hunting together in the upcoming weeks  and hopefully we can find somewhere with 4 apartments and have our own Seoul version of Friends!

With my new-found vacation time I’m going to try to do some backpacking in Vietnam and get out to the Pacific Northwest US over the summer; likely for a little backpacking with my same troupe that I went through the Southwest US last summer.  If all goes well I’ll end with a stint back in NJ before teaching the second half of the school year in Seoul.

Teaching this week has been a little tough but that’s mostly due to the students being off their rockers.  I’m sure things will settle out again soon and I just created a social story to help our “favorite” student behave on the bus and throughout the day.  I enjoyed meeting some new friends and practicing my Korean & Russian last night at a coffee shop and am looking forward to my second Korean class tonight!

We are supposed to be paid in 2 days but I don’t think any of us actually expect to get our paychecks on time.  When I brought up the payday last week with my principal she said “maybe” and they are still expecting me to repay half my flight out here (roughly $430).  I told them “maybe” I’d pay them when we get paid, but am going to do my best to keep my money.  My contract says nothing about having to negotiate or pay for a letter of release like they forced me to.  I’m prepared to go to the ministry of labor if they withhold it from my paycheck (which is what I’m expecting to happen).

Thanks for following and cheering me on through this struggle.  The support has certainly been welcome and I haven’t lost sight of my real motivation for coming to Korea.  I am loving living abroad and learning about the wonderful culture here.   They tell me its all part of the “honeymoon” phase but in spite of all the garbage I am dealing with at work I am really having a great time!