Travel Ban on Public Servants in Korea Wasn’t a Joke

Lee Tae-hoon
Written by Lee Tae-hoon

Teachers, especially foreigners working at public schools in Korea, may lose their jobs if they dare to travel abroad this summer, informed sources warned Friday.

One school teacher in her 50s claims that many of her co-workers felt that the government’s alleged ban on overseas trips wasn’t a prank, regardless of the Office of Prime Minister announcement Thursday that recent media reports were totally groundless.

“A handful number of my colleagues actually cancelled their plane tickets as they knew too well that their ‘reckless attempts’ could cause a serious harm to their career as government employees,” she said. “And this is no joke to foreign teachers as well given that they are being constantly monitored and assessed at school.”

She added that the Office of Education has been instructing schools to evaluable on native teachers more often so that they can use assessment reports as an excuse not to renew their contracts.

“The Office of Education is trying very hard to reduce the number of native English teachers at school,” she said on the condition of anonymity to the Korea Observer.

“Our school gave good assessments on our native teachers as we didn’t want to lose them, though we were pressured to record any small mistakes they would make.”

Five public servants in Busan who went to Turkey on April 19, three days after the Sewol Ferry Disaster, were relieved from their duty upon their arrival in Korea.

Sixteen workers of the Seodaemun Office had to face disciplinary action after participating in a four-day training program in China at the end of April.

This was because Article 37 of the Rules on the Government Workers’ Night and Emergency Duty stipulates that the public servants must be reachable at all times even outside of work hours and immediately report any changes in contact details and addresses.

“It is hard to tell whether we are still in a state of emergency,” another source said. “But if my boss thinks that way, what can I do about it?”

He warned that teachers should pay a close attention to Article 41 of the Public Education Official Act.

The law states that teachers are technically on duty for both summer and winter vacations and that they must regularly report to his or her office what kind of duty or training they are undertaking as an excuse to not showing up at their office.

“I believe it applies to foreign teachers,” he said. “We, teachers, must report everything to school even during vacations, including our whereabouts, and any of such records can be intentionally used to deal a blow to us.”

Along with the Office of Prime Minister, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST) also denied any involvement in such an “outrageous and unacceptable” attempt.

Nevertheless, it turned out that the report wasn’t totally groundless, though the government still argues that the recent travel ban brouhaha has nothing to do with English teachers working at public schools.

An MCST document dated on June 18 reveals that the ministry requested government bodies to encourage public servants to participate in its local tourism promotion campaign in this summer.

On July 9, the MCST deputy minister Kim Jong urged at a Cabinet Meeting that public officials should refrain from taking a trip abroad for summer vacation, according to the liberal newspaper Hankyoreh.

About the author

Lee Tae-hoon

Lee Tae-hoon

Lee Tae-hoon is publisher at The Korea Observer. He previously worked for the Korea Times and Arirang TV. You can reach him at

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