The hearing at the local Labor Office for my conflict with Unnamed Hagwon was yesterday. Eun Jeong and I showed up, and we met with our translator, Maria. We went over our case and waited in a government room with no chairs except for people talking to inspectors. Two o’clock came around, and there was no sign of Unnamed Hagwon Owner. We sat down to talk to the inspector.
Immediately we got the impression that this wasn’t going to bode well. The man was impatient, rude, and didn’t care about anything except closing the case as quickly as possible.
He called Unnamed Hagwon, and Unnamed Hagwon Owner said she had already paid me. He told her to show up. He then told us to wait to the side while waiting for Unnamed Hagwon Owner.
Now, he had another hearing at three o’clock, so we were pressed for time. Eun Jeong approached him and said it was unfair for us, who were on time, lose our case because Unnamed Hagwon Owner was late. In a gruff, he had us sit down again.
While he was taking down our information, Unnamed Hagwon Owner showed up and sat next to Eun Jeong. The inspector told her to apologize for being late. She apologized in Korean. He then told her that she should apologize to me, not to them.
“I’m sorry for being late, Joe,” she said with her milky fakeness.
She held in her hand my old cell phone attached to its charger. She handed it to the inspector and asked him to plug it into his desk. I wasn’t alone in thinking that was strange.
She then proceeded to do other strange things, like pulling out a sign in sheet from way back in November 2005. During this time, I was spending my mornings working on a content management system for the school. The school’s computers didn’t have the capacity or the software to get it done. So I worked from nine to eleven each morning programming. I then showed up an hour before my first class, which was scheduled late in the morning. She said, “Is this what a manager does?”
I thought, “Is this all she has?”
But it seemed to be enough. I couldn’t get a word in because any time I talked to the translator and she tried to translate for me, Unnamed Hagwon Owner or the inspector would interrupt. Eun Jeong noticed this too. She pointed out that the inspector listened with patience to Unnamed Hagwon Owner but showed impatience with us. We had stacks of official evidence from official sources while all Unnamed Hagwon Owner had was my contract, an old time book from November, and a cell phone (still didn’t explain what she was planning to do with that).
It went even crazier when the inspector made a big deal about my contract saying I got paid 2.1 million won a month but I was claiming 2.3 in severance. I, in fact, was getting paid an extra 200,000 won a month for management and administrative work. Anyone who has kept up with this journal knows how I basically kept the school afloat during crisis after crisis.
Besides, Korean Labor Law, and the lawyers and experts at EFL-Law (an organization set up to help English teachers with legal issues) state that severance is based on the actual paychecks of the last three months of work – not the contract. This includes bonuses and overtime that are received during those last three months.
Proving I worked overtime in January was even harder. In my mind, it seemed so simple. I pointed out each class I worked from 9 AM to 7 PM with only a thirty minute break the entire day for that month. Yet Unnamed Hagwon Owner was twisting it around by saying that the only change was a shift in teachers teaching different classes. I didn’t have any new extra classes, she said.
That was a pure lie, and she knew it. The woman who was teaching my kindergarten classes while I was teaching winter intensive classes left at lunch time.
Who was going to teach the kindergartners until they left at 2:30?
The only person available – me.
Again, this logic was lost in the confusing mix.
Then it started being implied that since my contract said that my salary was 2.1 million won a month, I had already been paid my severance with the extra 200,000 won each month. That totally flies in the face of the spirit of severance!
What incentive is there for someone to complete a year of work if they’ve already been paid? If you give the mule the carrot first, what reason does it have to work?
Things started looking up for us when we talked about the missing money in my paychecks in September, October, November, December, and May. She claimed that the money taken out in May was for taxes. Then she claimed that the 1,200,000 won taken out between September and December was also for taxes and bills.
The inspector asked me if I had agreed to it. I said that I agreed only if I was shown copies of the bills and a receipt for the taxes. When then showed him the document from the Tax Office that showed she had not paid taxes with that money.
Of course, the inspector ignored the document.
He demanded that Unnamed Hagwon Owner show proof for all the money she had taken out and scheduled another hearing for next week.
So the good part is that Unnamed Hagwon Owner has to prove that she paid bills and taxes with all that money. The bad part is that Unnamed Hagwon Owner is being given a second chance – which surely would not have been given to us if we had shown up late.
I’m a bit worried about the claim that my severance has already been paid. I don’t care about the difference between getting 2.1 million or 2.3 million. But I want my severance. The only reason I stayed there until the bitter end was to collect my severance.
After the hearing, Eun Jeong was very negative about the inspector. Maria had a more balanced opinion of him.
In the meantime, we have gotten some more help from former teachers. Eun Jeong is heading to the central Labor Office in Seoul tomorrow to talk about how the inspector’s claims conflict with what the law says. I’m getting more advice from the experts at EFL-Law.
So, that isn’t the end of the drama for that day. Jason, the guy who replaced me at Unnamed Hagwon, got fired yesterday. Unnamed Hagwon Owner was doing the same thing to him. She was taking money from his paycheck that he hadn’t approved. When he demanded his money back, she and Witch Hazel fired him. He and his wife (she’s Korean) are taking action against her, too, with the Labor Office.
Despite the awfulness of that hearing, I felt energized for the rest of the day. I taught my classes with more enthusiasm than usual.
Eun Jeong and I had dinner at a favorite samgyeopsal place down the road from the apartment. On the way back, we saw that the budongsan (real estate agent) who got us our place was burning the midnight oil. We stopped in to say hi. The wife was there, and she asked us to sit down. Then the husband showed up. We had a little small talk and then suddenly the husband grabbed me by the hand and pulled me out of the building.
Still holding my hand, he pulled me over to a fried chicken pub and introduced me to the staff and the owner. He then sat down with me outside while they got us some beers. We used pidgin Korean, English, and body language to talk about things. Then Eun Jeong showed up with Mrs. Budongsan and a friend of theirs. Mr. Budongsan was proud of the fact that he was owning more and more commercial space in the area. He was pointing out which businesses were his lessees – Paris Baguette, Bring Well Pizza, K-Mart (the Korean grocery store, not the Martha Stewart big box supercenter). People he knew passed by, and he introduced me to basically the whole neighborhood.
It was a lot of fun. By the end, they wanted us to call them big brother and big sister. They wanted to sit down and have drinks with us more regularly. In fact, we’re planning on going to the local art park (a new park filled with artwork) near the area on Sunday.
We returned satisfied in a decent day. It started out with us dealing with the outside world’s negative stereotypes of lying cheating Korean businesspeople and incompetent rude Korean bureaucrats. It ended with us partying with a great more Koreans who dashed that stereotype to pieces and who hated people like that.