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Teachers headed for final court battle over employment status

The original version of this article published on Jan. 13, 2015, stated incorrectly that the teachers' law firm was Kangnam Labor Law, when it was I&S Law Firm. The 18 teachers originally described as having joined the suit had not done so, and were in fact filing separately against the firm. — Ed.

Dozens of teachers who worked at Chungdahm Learning academies are preparing for a final court battle over pay and conditions, after the company appealed a ruling recognizing them as employees, rather than contractors.

Employee status would grant the teachers the right to certain benefits, such as holiday and severance pay.

In its ruling in November, which followed a similar one by a lower court, the Seoul High Court awarded the 24 teachers compensation based on time worked in the three years leading up to the application. Money owed from before that point cannot be claimed due to statute of limitations rules.

Chungdahm argues that the teachers were independent contractors, as described in the contract, but previous rulings have found that this situation does not comply with labor law, as Chungdahm controlled the rules, place and hours of employment, and in some cases sponsored teachers’ employment visas.

If confirmed by the top court, the ruling would affect other institutes that hire teachers as contractors. Contractor status allows greater employment flexibility and eliminates the requirement to pay out benefits, such as severance, pension and health insurance payments.

If the cost reductions are shared with employees, the resulting higher salary and increased flexibility could also be an attractive option for some teachers, particularly those from countries whose pension systems do not allow them to claim a refund when they leave Korea.

By Paul Kerry (