Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Keep an eye on your severance pay.

To any teachers who have renewed their contracts, make sure your severance pay was deposited. I learned recently that mine wasn't because I didn't apply for it. In the past it was automatic, although we did have to get on our handlers to see it through, but now you have to apply for it. I am eligible to receive this past year's pension, together with this year's sum, next August when my contract expires. I missed the deadline for this year, so I have to wait.

This came about under kind of strange circumstances. About two weeks ago I was told that the school board needed to know ASAP whether I'd be renewing my contract again in August, 2009, because it had to budget for my severance payment for the 2009-2010 year. As you can guess I hate being told to rush things like this so far in advance, considering that nobody tells me anything around here until the very last minute. Moreover, spending another year in a foreign country is a big decision, one that really can't be rushed ten months in advance. A lot could change in a year, and you never know when coworkers might try to have you fired again. *cough* Actually, I did tell them of my plans to sign a six-month extension through February or March, 2010, but was told it would be impossible, so it was refreshing to see the aversion to flexibility and long-term planning still reveal itself.

Anyway, as always happens with commands preceded with "Brian you must do this now," literally five minutes later it changed, and I was told that, nevermind, I don't have to make a commitment now because the school board pays severance every year. Hence, no reason to budget anything above and beyond, since they could carry over my severance from 2007-08. My coteacher asked if I had been paid severance last year, because the secretary couldn't remember. I checked and no, I hadn't been paid. The money will be carried over next year, at which time I'll get two years' worth.

When I followed up on this I was told that the secretary thought I'd prefer to have it altogether, since apparently---and this doesn't make sense---the year-end bonus is calculated based on your salary for that year, but if you receive two years' worth together, you get two years of the higher salary. Civil servants' pay goes up every year, she said, and it was with a bit of a grin that I reminded her that's not the case for English monkeys, and that I earn the same I did last year. Anyway, I don't think it was anything fishy, although when it comes to a big sum of my money, I don't like people making decisions about it for me. I also didn't like how the school had to get the last word in, by telling me it was my fault for not checking to see whether I needed to apply or not. Granted, you never know when new regulations pop up, so it's always a good idea to plan for every possibility, but a simple "sorry, I should have told you about this rather than keeping your money" would have been preferable to blaming me. Because of the fishiness that does come with the territory, it's certainly possible for an oversight to happen with this next year, so double check to see what's up.

Public schools are generally considered more reliable than private hagwon, but you'll hear plenty of stories of shadiness and corruption, and teachers usually have to keep a close eye on their finances when the end of the contract rolls around. Practically everyone I know has extended their visa for a few days after their contract finished just to make sure their final paycheck and their severance pay was deposited. And in many cases, they weren't. When I arrived in Suncheon I had to put myself up in a motel for a week because the previous teacher was still here, fighting for his last paycheck. I've written before how my schools in Gangjin got out of paying me my due overtime, and how I worked a three-week winter camp without getting paid because "it was my duty." I also mentioned how somebody over there was pocketing the money that should have gone toward paying rent. And every month my handlers and my bosses would fudge the paperwork in order to make it look like I was teaching more classes than I really was. This was in order to ensure that they still got a bonus for employing a white person, and so they altered the paperwork to make it look like I was teaching 18 hours a week instead of the actual 9. I never saw any of that money, of course, because that went to the "English department." I do know that whenI requested materials for said winter camp I was denied. The thing about public schools is they always have money; when you're not getting paid, somebody else is.

Anyway, the moral of the story is keep an eye on your bank book.


Melissa said...

Good suggestions, although you probably won't be surprised to hear that it pays (heh) to be diligent for university instructors as well, even at so-called good universities. I missed out on my first year of severence pay when I was in Daejeon (at a well-known Science and Tech university:) because (for some mysterious reason) they don't pay instructors severence or retirement after their 1st year of teaching but will pay annually every year *after* the 2nd year. Of course no one told me this until I asked about it.

Also, since I'm on a roll, when I *did* leave they initially tried to give me just one year's retirement pay - claiming that I had received my first year's pay already. It worked out in the end - sort of - but then when it came time for them to pay me my last month's salary I received only 730 thousand won (although my base salary was 2.7) I can't tell you why (alhough I asked many times and was given a long and convoluted answer) but I know it had something to do with me leaving in the *middle* of the month. Of course, they taxed me on a full month salary and took out money for a full month's rent. And never returned my damage deposit. And so on.

Anyway, it's just the same old shit but my point is that it happens EVERYWHERE. From the lowest hakwon to the top university. I still think the positives outweigh the negatives so I'm happy enough here but your advice is sound and can't be repeated enough, je pense.

Long f'ing comment - sorry. :)

Neil said...

All companies are required by law to provide severance, even if the teacher did not finish a full-year (after the first year that is).

Once you start your 2nd year, your severance accrues per day. So, to calculate your severance you take the average of your last months' salary (this includes ALL salary, including overtime, not the base pay) and base it upon the number of days you have worked.

You can either receive your severance right after your contract is finished or after you decide to finally leave the company. So if you make 2.5 million a month your first year and do not take your severance and sign a 2nd year contract at 3 million per month and then take your severance after your 2nd contract is finished, then your severance should be 6 million because it is calculated at your 2nd year salary x 2. Again, this is the law and any labor lawyer worth his or her salt will tell you this.

Places that say you cannot receive your severance after your 1st contract if you sign a 2nd contract or tell you they only pay severance every other year or something are lying and are breaking the law. I urge you to consult a labor attorney. Also, any company that sponsors your visa MUST also pay into your National Pension Fund. Do not let them tell you that they don't have to because you only work 15 hours a week (under Korean labor law 15 hours a week IS full time) or anything else. If they sponsor your visa they must take out part of your salary for the National Pension Fund and what is more they must MATCH it.

Know your rights!!!