Monday, July 04, 2011

Busan Ilbo: Corrupt hagwons taking advantage of foreign teachers a problem

On July 2 the Busan Ilbo published the following article:
"Corrupt hagwons, foreign instructor's income tax, pension embezzled"

■Where did the tax paid every month go?

After receiving an E-2 (conversation instruction) visa, New Zealander A (33, female) entered into a 1 year employment contract with a language hagwon in Gimhae and taught English. A was aware that, on the pretext of paying her income tax for her, every month the hagwon deducted 50,000 from her monthly salary.

However, when she prepared to return home at the end of her contract, she received notice from the tax office that not a penny of income tax had been paid during the last year. The hagwon owner had intentionally not submitted A's income tax return to the tax office and kept the money she had paid. Her return home blocked, A's friend quickly lent her money to pay the 600,000 won in unpaid taxes so she could board a plane to New Zealand.

Contractually specified severance pay, airfare denied
ATEK, "Guarantee of rights" legislative petition movement

■ Stolen pension and severance pay

B (34), and American, had his pension and severance pay stolen. B worked as an English instructor at another hagwon in Busan, but after a year when he inquired at the National Pension Service, he learned the truth that the hagwon had not paid a penny of his monthly pension payment for 12 months. The hagwon had deliberately not submitted anything to the service. In addition, the hagwon did not provide B with the severance pay or airfare stipulated in the contract.

Recently the Association of Teachers of English in Korea (ATEK) has drawn attention with its campaign to petition for legislation which will have the information of foreigners who have entered the country on E-2 visas automatically registered with the National Tax Service, the National Pension Service, and the National Health Insurance Corporation. This strategy is due to the common practice of hagwons not giving foreign instructors what is rightfully owed to them.

In fact, according to the Busan Foundation for International Activities, during the first half of this year they have received over 20 complaints from foreigners in the Busan area victimized by corrupt hagwons.

By type, cases in which hagwons do not pay the pension contributions and health insurance premiums that they should split with the instructor and which result in the instructor not receiving medical benefits or returning home empty-handed often occur.

As well, there are many examples of hagwons deliberately not reporting income or not paying the severance pay or airfare stipulated in the contract. Hagwons abuse the fact that though foreign instructors can lodge complaints against them, because they are returning home and are pressed for time, they have no choice but to finally relinquish their rights, ATEK revealed.

ATEK's position is that for the sake of foreign instructor's rights there is a need for the immigration office to establish a legal system in which the personal and employment information of foreigners with E-2 visas is transmitted to the National Tax Service, the National Pension Service, and the National Health Insurance Corporation in order to automatically register those paying pension contributions and health insurance premiums.

ATEK spokesperson Gregory Dolezal stressed that, "Due to the tax evasion, the harm done by hagwons not reporting foreign teachers' income ultimately affects Koreans." "To also improve Korea's national image, legislation to hold corrupt hagwons in check is absolutely necessary."
Kudos to reporter Hwang Seok-ha for the fair report. Yes, one shouldn't have to congratulate journalists for writing fair reports, but that's how it is. The fact that the Busan Ilbo published the two most negative articles about foreign teachers this year makes this article even more of a pleasant surprise.

It's also nice to see ATEK pushing for changes to legislation, and in the Korean language media - something I'd always hoped they would do more of. I contacted Greg Dolezal to ask about the article and the campaign. This is his reply:
Yes, there is a campaign, but first we are collecting as much data as we can to demonstrate our point. We have a poll of roughly 500 respondents from an ATEK/KOTESOL/AFEK poll plus regional stats from the labor boards and our own case logs.

BFIA is just one source [of information], and the migrant labor board has had many more complaints. Most people teaching don't know about BFIA yet because services for teachers are limited outside of an emergency hotline. (Other migrant organizations often send English teachers away because they target laborers rather than white-collar migrants.)

The ideal situation is if the tax office, pension service, and national health support the idea and become advocates because they lose money and have to contend with the problems, too.

Finding a national assembly member to lead in this would be a major advantage. But, we need to raise awareness in the Korean public because ultimately that's the only way to finally succeed.

Anyone who wants to volunteer on this should contact us. There is a lot to do. We have great volunteers but it takes many focused people to accomplish a goal like this.
Lots of good news here. I hope ATEK does well with this. Also worth mentioning is that, compared to the more than 375 negative articles about foreign teachers in the press last year, during the first half this year there have been only 88 negative articles. Hopefully that trend continues, and hopefully we'll see more articles like the one above.


Darth Babaganoosh said...

If Greg has the time and resources to comb through the archives and past posts, he may want to take a look at the old EFL-Law site. A bit out of date, but data that applies to what he's trying to show (may be used to compare recent stats and past "stats"?)

I think it was put under the umbrella of Koreabridge a while back.

Turner said...

I know it's common knowledge among English teachers, but do you think most Koreans are aware just how corrupt hagwons are?

F5Waeg said...

I can anticipate the reaction from hakwan owners: they are only responding to the behavior of foreign teachers, whose bad behavior has cost their business greatly, thus they need to recoup their losses.

While the article is nice, and I hope to see more along those lines, one article won't undo the years of negative portrayals that have filled pages of newsprint or hours of TV 'current affairs' programming.

Darth Babaganoosh said...

they are only responding to the behavior of foreign teachers, whose bad behavior has cost their business greatly, thus they need to recoup their losses.

Yes, but could always counter with "Corruption of this sort from hagwon owners has always been a problem--and back in the 90's when I first arrived, there was no way to get the Labor Board or Pension Board to take your case, you were simply SOL, and poorer for it... English teachers have only been drug-using molesters for the last 5 years." ;-)

kushibo said...

Kudos to ATEK for doing something substantive and effective to deal with this very real problem.

D said...


Wow, explain to us how AFEK was involved?


Iwazaru said...

I'm curious why the problem Greg created when he mentioned AFEK hasn't been addressed. How did AFEK collaborate with ATEK? Is this ATEK going around again misinforming the public?