By Chung Hyun-chae
The Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling, Thursday, in favor of 24 native English instructors who demanded severance pay and other allowances from their employer.
The top court confirmed the ruling made by the Seoul High Court in November 2014 that language institute Chungdahm Learning should provide weekly holiday allowances, annual paid leave and severance pay as the instructors were employees rather than contractors.
The high court already made clear that language instructors are employees who offer work as subordinates to the employer in a workplace to earn wages.
Losing the legal battle, Chungdahm will have to pay a different amount of overdue pay to each teacher based on his or her work period.
"I'm of course thrilled by the ruling. I'm also proud of the courts, from the Seoul Central District Court through to the Supreme Court, for unanimously recognizing our employee status," Andrew Krebsbach, one of the 24 teachers, said.
"Hopefully the precedent we set today will not only help other instructors win recognition as employees, and the legal protections that come with that status, but also act as a deterrent to other employers who purposefully misclassify workers in the belief they will be unable to fight for their rights," he added.
Their battle began in 2011 when 26 native English teachers working at Chungdahm Learning filed a lawsuit against the institute to demand overdue pay, claiming they were "permanent employees" of the institute. Two dropped the suit before the Seoul Central District Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.
Chungdahm appealed the decision, claiming that the teachers were independent contractors, not employees, who were not subject to benefits equal to those of the latter.
But the Seoul High Court cited the fact that teaching activities were tightly controlled by the institute's management as key evidence to disprove the institute's claim.
The final court decision will force Chungdahm to renew the contracts of all the native English teachers at its 187 branches across the country _ as of December 2014, some 1,300 foreigners work for the institute.
Chungdahm Learning was established in 1998.
"We have to discuss the details internally," a Chungdahm Learning official said, while declining to reveal details of follow-up measures.
The ruling recognizing instructors as employees is expected to affect other native English teachers across the country in that they will be entitled to benefits including holiday and severance pay.
According to the Ministry of Education, the number of native instructors working at academies all over the country was 13,294 as of July 2014.
"The decision is meaningful as the court finally recognized native English teachers as employees of academies," attorney Yun Hye-young from I&S Law Firm representing the teachers, said.
"I expect better working conditions to be offered to native instructors who have been poorly protected by Korea's Labor Law as they stay here for a short time with permission for employment according to the Immigration Law," she added.
Jung Bong-soo, a labor counselor, agreed with her, saying that improving working conditions for foreign instructors would help raise the quality of English education in the county.
"Once more foreigners recognize that teaching English in Korea is a stable job, more well-educated and qualified instructors will apply," Jung said.