Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Gangnam tells teachers to "take it or leave it," says Kang Shin-who.

An update to the developing story about Gangnam providing its native speaker English teachers a housing subsidy of 900,000 won in lieu of an apartment (see this post for information and a collection of other links). From the Korea Times and Kang Shin-who tonight:
A protest by native English teachers in the district of Gangnam over diminished housing subsidies has hit the wall with the district office issuing a "take-it-or-leave-it" ultimatum.

The Education, Technology and Science Ministry is taking side with the district, pointing out that its action is in full compliance with its guidelines.

Native English teachers were upset when Gangnam, the wealthiest district in Seoul, informed them of its decision to stop offering free housing and instead provide a monthly housing allowance of 900,000 won ($770) per month from next year.

By doing so, the office can save large housing deposits.

In response, some of the teachers, who are employed by the district as "teaching assistants," complained about its unilateral decision, arguing that they won't be able to find housing in Gangnam on the allowance.

They are considering taking the matter to the central government's labor dispute mediation board.

However, the education ministry was not sympathetic to the teachers' plight, saying that they are among the best treated foreign teachers.

"Schools don't have to necessarily offer housing to their foreign employees and many employers just provide their workers with a housing subsidy," said Hwang Ji-hye, an official in charge of managing native English teachers at the ministry. "Still, the housing allowance the Gangnam office proposed is more than two-fold higher than that of other regions."

In the last article Kang wrote that "Teachers in Gangnam Rebel," and he starts this one with "a protest by native English teachers" (sic), yet he provides no evidence to back these charges up. In this latest article he doesn't even quote a single teacher, and it seems he's getting his information from blogs and messageboards. The article goes on by saying that English teachers in other countries don't have it as good as they do in South Korea.
According to data collected by the ministry, most European countries don't offer housing or airfare to native English teachers. In addition, they receive a much lower salary.

For example, France offers a maximum $1,400 per month, the Czech Republic, $1,488, and Finland, $1,430. All prefer native English speakers who majored in English education with teaching licenses. France even requires foreign English teacher hopefuls to have a certain level of French ability.

Besides the salaries, Korea offers entrance/exit and settlement allowances along with round-trip air tickets.

That all might be true, but that's not really germane to this conversation. Oh, and it closes with:
Lee said that less than 10 of the 89 native English teachers were participating in the protest.

What protest? He went the whole article without even saying what teachers are doing to "protest" or "rebel," aside from writing that some teachers are planning to go to the Labor Board. Which doesn't seem that unreasonable, considering.

Besides, with less than 10% of teachers "participating in the protest," why didn't he approach the article by acknowledging that 90% of teachers are tolerating what's going on? If he's going to belabor the point that teachers are dissatisfied, he owes it to readers to at least fairly present their argument. Christ Almighty, this is what you get from the worst journalist in the English-language Korean press.

For the record, I don't have a huge problem with Gangnam simply providing an extra 900,000 won per month for teachers to find their own housing. Sure, it will mean some teachers---those who don't have money saved and thus, by extension, those without experience in Korea---won't be able to work in Gangnam, but working and living in one of the most exclusive areas of the country isn't a right. And, if we take Stafford's---the teacher who broke this story---clarification on my last post into account
Over Chuseok it has emerged that changes won't take effect until 01 January 2010 OR when current leases run out - which ever comes first.
In 99% of cases it means Teachers won't have to find a new place until their current contract has finished.
This means those near the end of a contract won't need to find short term housing and those near the beginning of their contracts have almost a year before needing to make arrangements.

then it's really hard to find fault with Gangnam. Districts make changes all the time, and make changes to upcoming contracts while current contracts are in place.

But I do have a problem with Gangnam making these changes mid-contract and forcing teachers to agree to them. If they were to begin with the next batch of contracts, fine, but to change an already agreed-upon contract just gives another black eye to Korean public schools, operating in an industry with an already poor reputation.

And, it should go without saying that I do have a problem with Kang Shin-who and his one-sided reporting. Not only didn't he talk to a single teacher in this piece, but he didn't even report on the "protest" that opened his article. Moreover, he went out of his way to present the school board's case without even telling readers that the objection chiefly isn't losing their free housing, it's with breaking and redoing a contract. And now by talking about an "ultimatum"---an ultimatum that was basically in place from the beginning, since if you don't sign a contract you don't have a job---he's racheting up the rhetoric and making teachers look more whiny and combative.


Korean Rum Diary said...

Kang is the epitome of Korean journalism - an ignorant, bigot hack with no common sense.

Puffin Watch said...

Let me see if I have this right:

These changes are going to mean they can only hire people who have been in Korea for a while and have saved up key money.

So this means no more 23 year old blue eyed young blond teachers fresh off the plane at ICN.

This might mean older, experienced teachers. That you can survive in Korea for an extended period of time and you can save enough money to afford key money, seems to me to imply you've got feet firmly planted in reality.

But this means no more 23 year old blue eyed young blond teachers.

Parents will have no problem with that, of course.

The assumption is there are enough people already in Korea who will be happy to apply for these jobs for a chance to work in the Gangnam school system. Because it's so darn great. Better than Bundang.

I was under the impression the lure was less the schools themselves as the schools provided apartments right in Gangnam.

Maybe there are enough people happy to live in Mokdong and then commute every day on the subway to Gangnam to be teaching in those super awesome schools. Maybe.

Commute? Welcome to the real word of course.

Still, a job in Gangnam no longer means an apartment in Gangnam. Takes a bit of the shine off the apple.

MMW said...


Why don't you do a newsreport on this for iVoice?


MMW Ombudsman

Ms Parker said...

Although there are plenty of countries that don't require employers to provide housing for their foreign workers, there are also quite a few that do.

In the UAE, where rents are astronomical, the employer *must* provide accommodation. This is because it is illegal for a non-national to own property here.

$770/month in Dubai would get you, maybe, a shared bunk-bed in a room with 14 other people....

Stafford said...

I spat the proverbial coffee all over my monitor after reading the article.

Gangnam teachers were to have a meeting with officials this afternoon at 5pm, which was rescheduled for tomorrow (Wednesday) at the last moment.

(read into that what you will)

So I had to read this apparent "Ultimatum" through the press rather than being told face to face, which is, frankly speaking (to coin a phrase) a bit off.

I am NOT one of the "protesters" but feel I have a legitimate gripe in not having to change my contract whilst still in the midst of it.

New contracts are a different story and I have always maintained as such - people are free to sign or not.

The comparisons to European countries are a bit facile and disingenuous, the most fitting and relevant comparison would be between Korea and Japan, where someone like me, with a good amount of experience and qualifications would likely make out quite well. Hell! Outside of Tokyo you'd be laughing.

It seems the Office (or at least "reporter" Kang) is trying to make us out as being a bunch of greedy whores.

I may well be a whore, but I certainly am not greedy sir!

Usual blah blah over at The Bimbo.

Peter said...

Kang is the worst kind of journalist. He disguises preaching as reporting, and bends the facts (or simply makes them up) to serve this purpose.

That said, a 900,000W housing allowance sounds more than fair to me; even if it's not enough to live in Gangnam, it's more than most schools offer. If this change does take effect mid-contract for some teachers, that's unfair of course. Unfortunately, such sudden changes to existing contracts are a well-documented hazard of teaching ESL in Korea -- one for which we're not likely to get much sympathy from most Koreans, who probably get jerked around by their bosses more often than we do.

Ryan said...

To be fair, there are apartments in and around the Gangnam area that you can rent that don't require key money.

My wife and I rent a fairly large studio apartment (with the kitchen in a separate room) month to month, and with only 1 month bond in Yeoksam.

In fact, when we moved from Daegu to Seoul a few months ago, we were shown around by a real estate agent to see a bevy of month to month apartments available that need only 1 month's bond.

But don't get me wrong, changing a contract mid way is the pits. It's just that people wanting to live in and around the Gangnam area do have options that don't have to have anything to do with key money.

Word verification: "stops".

An Acorn in the Dog's Food said...

I noticed that Stafford mentions:

"[C]hanges won't take effect until 01 January 2010 OR when current leases run out - which ever comes first [...] those near the beginning of their contracts have almost a year before needing to make arrangements."

However, wouldn't that mean teachers in the beginning of their contract have less than three months (October 2009 - January 2010) to find housing rather than "almost a year"?

My apologies if I misread that.

Gomushin Girl said...

Actually, this could put some teachers who *do* manage to get key money scraped together in a precarious position. Say you're one of the ones at the beginning of the contract. You've started out in an apartment provided by your school, but now have to find and negotiate your own housing . . . to last you for less than a year. Getting a contract on housing for less than a year is difficult, and there are frequently problems trying to get your key money back if you choose to break the lease and leave early. Even if you give notice to your landlord that you're leaving by X date, it is extremely common for them to hold your key money until they've secured a new tenant (and thus new key money) or even as long as the end of your original contract. Now you've got three months *remaining* on your apartment after your school contract (and thus salary and housing allowance) is potentially finished, and little chance to recoup that key money in time. As I said on another website, it sounds like the district and/or schools have suddenly found something else they need that chonse and key money they've been spreading around for. Assuming they have teachers now who've taken the housing option, they've also got key money or chonse. If that's the case, it's actually costing them *more* to pay a 900,000 won allowance. So what gives?

Stevie Bee said...

I think people would feel less uneasy about handing over huge amounts of key money if their visa didn't restrict them to one employer. (This might seem an irrelevancy, but bear with me...) Under the current system, there is just so much more to lose - you pay your key money (10 mil, say), you sign your contract, you get your visa. But then if some disagreement or difference of opinion or any manner of other mitigating circumstances intervenes, not only do you lose your job and your visa, but you also lose your key money. It's not so much to bear when it's just a visa that you're losing, but to ask a person to stump up millions of won from their own pocket and then set them to such bonded terms to secure its safe return ups the ante to the point where I certainly wouldn't be willing to bet, and nor would I recommend that others take the action either (particularly not first timers).

Paying out key money is not so bad if your status as a resident is secure, but when it's tied to the whim of your employer, then it represents a bad choice and a distinctly unfair set of terms.

daniel said...

"In 99% of cases it means Teachers won't have to find a new place until their current contract has finished"

False I am afraid. There are less that a hundred teachers and quite a few will have to move out before their contract ends. Maybe the real statistic will be somewhere between 65-85%.

Peter said...

In regards to key money, I've never had to do it myself, but have a few friends in Korea who have put up the key money themselves, and have had no problems getting it back, etc. But those friends are people who have been in Korea a few years, and have a fairly stable employer at this point. If you're looking at Korea as a 1-year commitment max, or are dealing with a new employer and don't know what to expect from them, I can definitely understand being uneasy about putting down key money.

An Acorn in the Dog's Food said...

Gangnam's decision to do away with prepaid housing brings up a couple of interesting points:

Gomushin Girl brought up a great point about getting one's key money back if they leave before their one-year lease is up and it is something I wonder about myself. On top of that, will the Gangnam Office of Education put incoming teachers in a motel and let them find housing on their own or help them throughout the whole process? If these new teachers are picky about - or the board of education / their school is unhelpful in - searching for a more permanent place to live I can also see someone signing a 12 month lease but only living there for 11 months. What happens then?

Also, something that just occurred to me is that adopting a policy like this on a larger scale could have a significant influence on the demographics of non-Korean English teachers in Korea. While it may be less of a problem now, I do recall in the past how difficult it was for schools in the countryside to find teachers for their English programs. Were this situation to ever return, I wonder if SMOE, GEPIK, and EPIK would ever enter into an agreement -- with SMOE offering a housing allowance and the 'regional' associations going all-in by providing housing.

This might create a scenario where incoming teachers would have a greater incentive to work outside of Seoul (no contacts/ support networks to find housing beforehand or deal with key money) while Seoul could find itself with a larger pool of experienced teachers to choose from. You could do something similar with just the different 구s within the capital as well ... with places like Gangnam, Jongno, and Nowon benefiting considerably. (If it actually plays out like that.)