Where to begin…
I suppose I should begin by stating that, in Korea as well as America, it is inadvisable to publicly grouse and gripe about one’s work life. It makes one appear petty and disgruntled, and it may invite reprisals and limit future opportunities. It is always in a person’s best interest to remain civil and circumspect when discussing one’s job (especially when your anonymity is not guaranteed). Unfortunately, this principle is not always compatible with the natural desire to give voice to one’s true feelings. It is a challenge to remain professional and still speak the truth.
I like a good challenge.
First, the facts, as may not be disputed. Our regularly scheduled payday is the 10th of each month. I feel I should add that February, though short by a few days, is a “month” by universal consensus. Today, incidentally, is February 26th. Let the record show that this is more than two weeks removed from the 10th, and further let it show that in that time, Tara and I have not been paid. Neither has anyone else in the office, nor (to my knowledge) any of the part-time teachers we have worked with in the month of January.
If I may be permitted to speculate, our company has run into significant difficulties in meeting its payroll obligations.
Now, that’s unfortunate on its own. Frustrating, even. We are after all a young couple in a foreign country where our ability to live comfortably depends largely on the timely arrival of our salary. We’ve only been in South Korea for a little over two months, and our first paycheck (which also arrived five days late, but that’s neither here nor there) was half-size, owing to our starting work halfway through December. Consequently, we haven’t had a chance to do much saving, and our cash is running low. So yeah, frustrating.
It would be even more frustrating if we felt that the company lacked compassion for our situation. In fact, one could conceivably determine that it would be extremely frustrating if we had been repeatedly led to believe, over the course of the last sixteen days, that we would be paid in due course on certain specific dates.
How frustrating would that be? For the sake of argument, we might try to calculate it. Noticing that we had not been paid on the 10th, and asking if there was a problem, we might be told that, owing to some accounting process, the money would not be available until the 14th. As the 14th passed into memory with no payments made, we might be assured that it would certainly be ready on the 15th (a Saturday), or on Monday the 17th at the latest. Arriving at work on Monday, we might then be assured that our salary would arrive on the 19th.
At this point, our frustration might be compounded if, having planned a two-week vacation to Jeju island a month in advance, we were forced to cancel flight and hotel reservations at the last minute owing to lack of funds. If that happened, you might suppose we’d be bitter. But we are not inclined to bitterness, so the question is largely academic.
On the 19th, we might be told that the company’s problems were on the verge of being solved, and that absolutely everybody would receive their money on February 28th (or, to quote the exact phrase, “the end of the month”) and all would certainly be sunshine and rainbows once more. If we protested that our funds were short and this was far too long to wait, then perhaps we might receive a special promise that our own pay would arrive on the 25th.
How might it feel then, if on the 26th of February the person who made that particular promise denied having done so? I bet it would feel really bad. If the sequence of events in the real world bore any resemblance to the hypothetical timeline described here, I’d have to rate the ensuing frustration as a solid seven out of ten. But we’ve spent enough time speaking hypothetically.
It was not until the 17th that we realized something was deeply wrong, and began looking for solutions beyond “waiting and hoping.” Maybe we were slow on the uptake. But we flew into action, asked some hard questions, and started making some tough decisions.
As Tara mentioned the other day, we are somewhat limited in our options. Even if your employer does casually abdicate on what is probably the defining responsibility of the employer-employee relationship, they still own your visa and can prevent you from seeking a different kind of work (you know, the kind that pays money). Our requests to be released from our contract were denied. We’ve been to the labor board and we’ve been to Immigration (twice), and while they could theoretically help us, it would take at least a month. We are exploring other avenues of recourse, but at this stage it’s still too early to tell what comes next, exactly. We’ll be sure to share more once all is said and done.
We may yet be paid on the 28th. Lots of things are possible. It would be quite audacious of them not to pay us then, I think. Of course, I thought not paying us on the 10th was audacious too. Maybe what I think isn’t really important.
In some ways, we are partly to blame for our predicament. There was information about this company on the internet before we took the job, some of it capable of raising even the most stoic of eyebrows. We called the company from America to ask about certain incidents, and we were told that all was well, new people were in charge of running the company, and that if we came over and took the job we would most certainly be paid every single month. Being trusting people (who, as I mentioned earlier, are inclined neither to bitterness nor cynicism), we took them at their word. I wish we hadn’t.
So that, my friends, is the situation. It’s not a happy situation, but for the time being we are making do. We have a little money tucked away that will certainly last us into March, and we remain warm and safe from the elements. And today is my birthday, so at least we have one thing to celebrate. Here’s to more celebrations in the near future.