Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Korea isn't the only country screwing foreign teachers...

When I worked in Korea, one of the "hot topics" that Korean bloggers who were English teachers enjoyed (endlessly) blogging (and complaining) about was how some disreputable and shady hagwons liked to exploit their foreign English teachers and screw them out of money, time, and benefits promised them in contracts or guaranteed by Korean labor law.

Newsflash, children:  Korea isn't the only offender in the screw-the-foreign-teacher game.

My very own employer in the U.S., Prince George's County Public Schools in Maryland, is in hot water for failing to comply with U.S. labor laws regarding paying the visa fees for foreign employees.  In today's Washington Post article by Robert Samuels, "Federal investigation: Pr. George’s owes foreign teachers millions," PGCPS was sanctioned by the Department of Labor on behalf of mostly Filipino teachers recruited for math and science positions.  They were called a "willful violator" of labor law:
School officials recruited the foreign instructors for classes such as math and science that were hard to fill but then required that the teachers cover thousands of dollars in expenses related to getting temporary work visas — expenses that, Labor Department officials said, should have been covered by the system. That violated laws requiring that U.S. and foreign teachers be compensated equally.

Federal officials have labeled the Prince George’s County Public School System a “willful violator’’ of labor laws and could forbid it to get any more temporary work visas, the majority of which were given to educators from the Philippines.

Our defense?  "We didn't know."  It is so like PGCPS to plead incompetence in order to wriggle out of what amounts to a criminal finding.  They are now open to civil lawsuits on the matter.  As if we didn't have enough budget problems.

Now, I will admit that I do not work for the most reputable of counties.  They do not have a history of treating teachers well and frequently have "scandals" at all levels of administration (most recently our County Executive was indicted for corruption and removed from office in February of this year).   There's a reason I'm leaving at the end of this school year and never, ever looking back.

However, it will be hard now for the screwed over EFL worker in Korea to now claim that it would "never" happen back in America.  It just did.


  1. Are you moving back to Korea? Will you still be teaching in some capacity?

    As a new resident of PG County I'm curious about the workings of the school system.

  2. I've long been a proponent of the "it's not THAT bad here" side. I think too many of the English teachers here have never had a job in the real world and can't compare it to anything. I've had crazy idiot bosses in the US. I've had jobs that make me come in at midnight to make me do one 20 minute task. I had a job that put me in the back of a parking lot of a football stadium alone with only a walkie talkie for protection while drunk men tried to entice me into their van. I'm sorry, but having a job in the US doesn't guarantee and end to the BS. We have a pretty sweet gig here in Korea. Employers around the world are sketchy, it's not just something special in Korea.

  3. Aside from a couple of small, family run business that I worked in uni, I don't think that I've worked anywhere that doesn't find creative ways to take money out of their employees pockets, some way or another.

  4. Lol this is funny. America is vastly superior to Korea in the area of foreign workers. Does Korea have a law which states foreign nationals and U.S. citizens must be paid the same thing? Does Korea launch investigations into the mistreatment of foreign teachers? Has the Korean government ever criminally prosecuted a hagwon owner for theft of wages? These workers will receive their compensation plus interest so it is by far not the same thing.

  5. Those workers will actually get what they're owed. I never saw the money the Labor Board said I should get.

  6. And these kind of things are actually reported in the USA newspaper. It is not like other Americans are hiding but shining light on it. I think foreigners are surprised that Koreans expect us to accept this kind of behavior and no Koreans really talk about it. At least other Americans are saying this is bad problem and there is a good chance that they will get the money.

  7. I'm an expat teacher too and I've my own share of grievances. I've worked for two schools for my 6 years of working abroad, one is owned and managed by Thais while the other is by Indians. I saw all the advantages and disadvantages from both these two schools. The culture plays a big role on how the management treat their people. But education for private schools is business, and that money is their common denominator above culture. Some teachers are got to be treated unfairly, business must thrive.

  8. thanks diana, i needed that [spent all day angry over lost wages (what are lost wages in a world of unconditional love!?)]. one does lose track here, doesn't one? i feel much better now.

  9. Hagwons are usually owned by the so called Hagwon Wonjangs ( Principal) who is an individual and not a corporate / government entity.
    I am not sure how the wages compares to Public Schools but I would be very wary of going to teach at a Hagwon just because of the uncertainty on how an individual owner will act regarding labor laws.
    Having personally had experience in the States running a small company, labor law was the hardest thing to comply with especially when there are less than 5 employees.



Related Posts with Thumbnails