When last year a couple of teachers, working overseas but not in Korea, sought redress for wrongful dismissal by the British Council in a British tribunal, the British Council successfully argued that the teachers were locally employed overseas and so outside British jurisdiction. It just happened that the British Council were involved with a number of autonomous local schools where such people were employed. Complete nonsense of course; the British Council is a British entity (check the name), financed by the British government, offering ex-Britain international teaching careers, promising an international brand, posing as Britain’s cultural missionaries worldwide and so on. [Download koreacost.mp3 ]
That ruling means that local employment law applies to British Council teachers abroad, right?
Wrong. A few months ago some British Council teachers in Korea discovered that under Korean labour laws they were entitled to Severance Pay on completion of their contracts, being one month’s salary for each completed year. This is, they were given to understand, a legal requirement and an obligation on all employers. The teachers were then informed by their local British Council manager that Severance Pay had in fact always been calculated into the salaries, it just hadn’t been specified in the contracts or the pay slips. Or anywhere else. It might be invisible, but it was – they were told – definitely there. Further enquiries by the teachers revealed that Severance Pay could not legally be included in the salary, and could only be paid on severance. Moreover, local Korean staff, they discovered, were indeed collecting Severance Pay on completion of their contracts. In other words the teachers were getting stuffed.
A copper-bottomed case you might think, but there are two problems: firstly, being itinerant teachers they were obliged at the end of their contracts to make their way to the airport and leave the country, after which pursuing a claim locally got harder. Secondly, the British Council have an overused, dog-eared trump card that they play, which relates to their diplomatic status - officially representing Britain and its people. Given a choice between a quiet life and going in to bat for a few departed foreign teachers and then engaging in a legal wrangle with the British diplomatic corps, the Korean authorities apparently made the obvious choice, leaving water dripping harmlessly off the British Council’s back, and the teachers high and dry.
English language teachers should take note. If you are to be employed by the British Council you must have your eyes open. You must consider carefully the issues raised on the Repspeak site, and seek clarification, in writing, from the British Council about issues of concern. And remember this: whatever lip service the British Council may pay to the idea of quality, centres of excellence and such, they have language schools for one purpose only – to make money - and that means revenue to max and costs to the min. And you, dear teacher, are a cost. So look after your interests, and take nothing on trust from this shifty employer.