As colleagues around Ireland return from IATEFL in Brighton talking about the brave/ insightful/ overdue talk by this presenter or another, ELT Advocacy remembers Silvana Richardson’s brave, insightful, overdue talk about non-native English speaking teachers in 2016. Her talk inspired this article originally published in The Teacher Trainer Journal in the Spring of 2017 re-published here with the permission of the Journal. Its conclusions seem worth repeating in the shadow of the closure of our fellow teachers’ school in Limerick this month. It is aimed specifically at teacher trainers and observers on CELT, CELTA and CertTESOL courses.
At the 2016 IATEFL conference held in Birmingham, UK Silvana Richardson’s plenary brought to light a neglected part of the ELT conversation. Instead of discussing how to help your students get wrong answers right, she asked us to think about the rights and wrongs being done to our colleagues when discriminated against by employers. In doing so she demonstrated that it is safe, and even necessary, to begin coming out about our responsibilities to each other as fellow professionals.
The talk was about employment rights: specifically, the right to be considered for a teaching job without discrimination as to your nationality. Richardson’s discussion commendably recognized the need for local, organisation-level observations and actions. It was perhaps this that made me sit up and pay close attention. This was a very different IATEFL plenary.
Though a ‘native’ speaker of English myself, the content of Richardson’s talk reflected my own experience, having played many roles in ELT in Ireland apart from ownership of a school. In management, in the classroom, and in working with the school’s promotions and activities and training teams, I noticed a constant favouritism towards English native speakers, from which of course I passively benefitted.
Richardson took the opportunity to engage her fellow professionals using European ELT’s biggest platform to advocate for our colleagues who often face discrimination. She framed ELT as work within the context of workplace rights. She talked about professional rights, by discussing the legal, practical and ethical basis of those rights. She also advocated the expectation of professionalism from management as well as respect from paying students. It rightfully earned its place in the history books as a seminal talk.
For those who could not attend the 2015 conference, IATEFL debated a request on their Facebook page to create a Special Interest Group (SIG) on ELT professionals as ‘workers’. That 2015 ‘Teachers as Workers SIG’ discussion has continued in a Google+ group ‘TAWSIG’ where TEFL Equity Advocates organiser Marek Kiczkowiak contributes, along with ELT people from around the world. His work, like Richardson’s plenary, aims to mark a change in global ELT culture.
Dublin college closures reveal schools’ relationship with teaching staff
From 2014 to 2015 Dublin, Ireland saw 15 ELT school owners bow ungraciously out of the Irish private education market. They abandoned students from all over the world, taking off with their tuition fees and avoiding prosecution. The exodus has halted for the most part. But the students are still out of pocket and will never have their fees refunded. Acrimony and public protest forced new national government regulations to put an end to this for students and owners… but what about the teachers?
Where did the staff end up afterwards? When the schools began to close there was support and pity for cheated students and there were questions for errant owners but for the teachers? Like the old whiteboards, they were out on the street, hoping someone else would pick them up. It was discouraging and de-humanising to see how useless one’s continuing professional development was, when for-profit ELT was free from oversight.
What is the connection between this string of business closures in Ireland and Silvana Richardson’s pioneering talk in England? It becomes clear when you realise that English language teachers are frontline workers yet are not considered stakeholders in the for-profit ELT sector. During the College Closure Crisis we learned that in our for-profit environment, novice and veteran teachers needed active protection in the form of an informed organization that represents their voice during negotiations. The DoSs and ADoSs were not informed or prepared on how to handle closures or spot the signs that the business might be in trouble. They were either unaware of what was happening or covering for the owners.
Who advocates for the English language teachers?
Part of the reason Irish ELT staff didn’t report their concerns to the authorities may have been fear for their jobs. In other words, their precarity* kept them from doing their jobs properly. Another reason may have been that they didn’t know who would listen or who would give safe advice. This was because local regulators, ACELS, a voluntary semi-governmental body, may have appeared to staff as biased by their very long and close relationship to established schools. The sector’s older schools had always lobbied for ‘self-regulation’ too. So these ‘optional regulators*’ may have seemed to be part of the problem.
Friends in other schools were not a safe option for advice as talking ‘across’ school walls was seen as treasonous from the owner and management’s point of view. ‘Loose lips sink ships.’ How about the top: the government? But government officials don’t have time to talk to every individual who had a suspicion that their employer was conducting business illegally or was about to suddenly close a school. So who represents the teachers in times of trouble or need? When the time came for government action, government ministers expected teachers to be represented as a group at the table. They expected them to be organized… like ‘real’ teachers… in unions. Where were our unions? This was a government question to teachers when they approached their parliamentary representatives.
The big question
So, why weren’t the Irish teachers in unions?
There were many reasons why.
Sometimes it was because if the bosses found out, there was a legitimate fear that you would slowly be given fewer hours until suddenly you weren’t needed any more. Using your rights to union membership can increase your chances of discrimination in ELT. Open union membership or an attempt to unionise colleagues, perhaps even more than a ‘non-native’ passport or accent, can be a serious mark against you in most Irish ELT staffrooms, and I would bet the same can be said of the UK too.
So is our right to union membership in the UK and Ireland any less of a right than the right to equality in the hiring process which Silvana Richardson championed so gracefully and boldly and to so much applause in 2016? This is the question we need to discuss because increased professionalism, equality and better conditions will ultimately follow from widespread union membership.
Unions promote the equality Richardson and Kiczkowiak both talk about. Unions provide the expertise and standing under the law to address and advise on a lifelong career in ELT beyond the hiring phase. Unions representing ELT do exist: see TEFL Guild’s advice on unions for the UK, Ireland and Canada. And don’t forget the American Federation of Teachers, a union which was a major sponsor of the 2016 TESOL Convention in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
I’m a teacher trainer/ educator/ mentor. What can I do?
My request to those who work with teachers in a training capacity is this: please talk to these teachers about joining a union. In Ireland, ELT ADVOCACY have put in many hours informing unions about our sector and unions have won victories for ELT workers here.
Trainees often spend a year or so with a less than reputable school in an effort to gain experience in their first years of work, with little more to protect them than a smile and good will. ELT can’t just mean Exploiting Language Teachers, but change will only come when ELT workers take themselves, their profession and their colleagues seriously. Individual degrees and training gain entry but what will ELT professionals find when they get beyond the gateway to the field?
How trainers are key: a story of success
Here’s a parallel from another field. Archeologists working on building sites in Ireland were subject to contracts with pay below the living wage. The Living Wage in Ireland is €11.50 while minimum wage is €9.55. Site archeologists were earning slightly more than the minimum wage. These were archeologists who had Masters’ degrees and PhDs.
Why was their highly skilled work being paid so poorly? Why were the digger drivers on the sites being paid better? The answer was that the digger drivers were in unions. Getting enough archeologists into a union was a problem but it was resolved when the archaeology lecturers in the universities and trainers started playing their part as local advocates. When they encouraged their students to join a union, numbers swelled and union membership was normalized. The union was then able to use the courts on the archeologists’ behalf. The benefits were felt on all sides. The archeologists continued their professional practice for the good of our national heritage. The building site operators who planned for and hired the archeologists raised their rates commensurately. And the wonderful people who trained the archeologists anticipate a small rise in the number of course applicants because those would-be professional diggers can now say ‘yes’ to following their dream since the wages now match the level of commitment and training their profession requires. The same thing can happen in the English language teaching industry.
It’s time for trainers, educators and mentors to join a union. It’s time to talk to the teachers we work with and encourage them to use their legal rights to unionise too, to make ELT a safer place to work and develop in. It’s time for us all to join a union – just like public sector teachers – so that we can all have real contracts and wages.
ELT is good work. It should be respected. But it is up to us to earn that respect through organization. Continuing Professional Development won’t do it. PhDs don’t get better contracts – union members do. Consider the duty of care you have for the teachers you’re training. Take a page out of Silvana Richardson’s book and stand up for teachers as professionals.
‘International students hold protest in Dublin city centre’ by Sorcha Pollack in The Irish Times 5/5/2015
*Precarity is a precarious existence, lacking in predictability, job security, material or psychological welfare. The social class defined by this condition has been termed the precariat.
Here I am referring to ACELS, but also to MEI and IEM Providers QQI under the Department of Education and Skills.
MEI [See http://www.mei.ie/ ] promotes membership as a further mark of quality while working as a coordinating body for established school owners through which they can lobby government and coordinate efforts. It is thus not unlike a national union for local ELT organisation owners.
The Irish Department of Education and Skills operates QQI who set the International Education Mark which licenses schools to provide courses to students who will require visas. An inspection regime is in place to facilitate their work. But surprisingly, a school can still choose to operate outside all of these optional regulators as a small service provider for EU or resident students customers. This leaves those students, and teachers, at risk.
Reprinted with the kind permission of The Teacher Trainer where this article originally appeared as ‘Time to talk about unions?‘ in Volume 31 Number 1, pages 20-21.
This is an essential piece of reading for ELT school owners, associations, trainers and teachers, especially now. Thanks for the mention, Phil Longwell.
This is an extensive summary of the original research I carried out in December 2017. It is published to coincide with a 30 minute talk at the IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) conference, in Brighton on 10 April 2018. It is my first ever presentation at any ELT conference.
The focus of my talk, ‘Improving the mental health of English language teachers’ changed somewhat when I received such an overwhelming response to my survey. I carried out a pilot using a small sample of five people – the week before it went live. I received 156 responses in just the first 24 hours of it being published on 1 December. I closed the survey after three weeks, having…
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The closure of LanLearn in Limerick City will be a test case for learner protection reforms introduced in October 2015. Despite the ELT owners’ eagerness to claim through their lobbying organisations and literature that there is room to expand the industry, there is no discussion as to the precise relationship between employees and customers. I’m using these terms as I have heard and seen various attempts to redefine the role of English language teachers. Learners and students are in effect customers, regardless of how they see the teacher-student relationship in the classroom. Essentially that is what will unfold in the coming weeks as the reforms are tested.
Already the insurance companies have enacted “contingency plans” for the relocation and refunding of students. Owners have recourse under company law to try and cut their losses by a number of measures, one of them being insolvency procedures. The discourse will then shift to regulatory jargon regarding existing or proposed standards “going forward”. One thing is for certain, the teachers left unpaid and out of work will not feature as a main part of the discourse, and this is unacceptable.
Teachers’ rights and protections are absent from the narrative. No insurance company will be rushing to find adequate ELT providers to relocate teachers, however, their students are protected under the regulations and should be relocated as soon as possible. It’s hard to imagine an educational sector with such blatant disregard for the welfare of its employees. This situation seen in the example of LanLearn can happen again and we need to be prepared to assert our role as custodians of an incredibly important educational sector.
We must press ahead with actions and discourse that places teacher’s rights on a par with that of students and owners. Our job title has become synonymous with precariousness and instability, and is in danger of becoming disgustingly cliché. Yet, our role as educators runs parallel with our duty as educational professionals to enact and enforce standards that protect students and employers. Who then protects the teachers?
As ELT professionals we must eliminate all elements within the industry that seek to relegate our role to that of an expendable, interchangeable element of the business model. We must meet the propaganda of the owners as the living fuel that sustains their industry. This year with the upcoming QQI bill we will have the opportunity to establish these standards, and ELT Advocacy and ELT Unite encourage all teachers to analyse and critique the legislation, as well as push for amendments that secure our livelihoods.
Our work already enriches the insurance companies, sales and marketing teams not to mention the countless complimentary industries that survive from the intake of students and their purchasing behaviour. The final product is always the class taught hours, often promised along a chain of marketing deceit, but delivered earnestly and professionally under a variety of often difficult circumstances. There are no schools without teachers and if we don’t assert our rights then our role will forever be ignored and its precarious nature will eventually undermine the industry itself.
At present in the international media, issues of bullying and harassment have come to the fore as being subjects of great concern. Equally topical here in Dublin is the question of the appalling treatment of teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages within the private English language school sector. Thus, problems with low levels of pay, poor conditions and insecurity of tenure of English language teachers are widespread within our industry. Fortunately, moves are now afoot, thanks to ELT Advocacy, Unite the Union and other bodies, to attempt to begin resolving these endemic problems, so that it is to be hoped that the role of English language teacher in Ireland will enjoy much greater security in the future.
Having taught English over the past few years at various private English language colleges throughout Dublin, I’ve experienced all of the above serious employment-related problems. However, in this article, I specifically want to bear witness to my experiences of serious bullying and harassment in my last English language school. I wasn’t the only teacher in that school to be consistently psychologically terrorized and brutalized by both the Director of Studies and some students, and I have no doubt that teachers still unfortunate enough to be working there are still being treated abominably. Nevertheless, I hope that in sharing my experiences, other teachers may in the future be safer from such tyrannical treatment.
I began teaching in this Dublin city centre private English language school – for obvious reasons, I’ll call the school English Quicklearn – in February 2017. In my previous work in a university language centre, as in all my previous English language schools and university lecturing posts (I used to lecture in French, Spanish, Translation Theory and research methods temporarily, including in the UK), I had gotten positive feedback on my language teaching skills, both informally from students, and formally by means of student feedback forms. In addition, I’ve regularly been observed by peers and supervisors, formally, when teaching in the university sector and in the English language sector, and there again, I’ve always gotten very positive feedback.
When I started at Quicklearn for the first couple of months I was doing various cover hours at all levels as well as a lot of administrative work to assist the Director of Studies. Eventually, in about May 2017, I was given my own full-time class. After two days teaching this intermediate-level class, I was shocked when the DOS told me very menacingly and nastily that he had been receiving complaints from several students about my teaching – they found me boring and didn’t want to be in my class. He gave me a warning that unless things improved I would be dismissed. He then marched me into that class and invited the students to say what they found wrong with me, and comments included that I ‘wasn’t writing enough on the board’, ‘wasn’t doing enough grammar’ ‘wasn’t familiar with the course book’ and was ‘spending too much time on language games’. This was after two days. I honestly felt that none of these complaints were well-founded and were unfair.
I’m a teacher who has always written a significant amount of language on the whiteboard, who does lots of grammar using various methods, who is very familiar with the various course books as I’ve always spent hours and hours of (unpaid) preparation, both at weekends and throughout the working week, familiarizing myself with all course book materials and also sourcing lots of authentic material in order to supplement the course book. I’ve never spent too much time on games, but have occasionally used them as a break and with pedagogical motivations. I was experimenting with language games in a bid to satisfy these difficult, demanding customers who found me boring, but it evidently wasn’t working.
When I tried defending myself to the students with the above points, the DOS didn’t make any comment or try to defend me, but anything the students said, he replied with ‘Oh yes, that’s a very good point’ etc. The customer was always right – the teacher was an overhead.
Over the next few months, this pattern of threatening and intimidation, giving me warnings and so on, continued. There were weeks where the DOS would be all smiles, telling me that my classes were very happy with me, and showing me some of their positive evaluations on feedback forms. The whole situation left me – and other teachers who were being treated the same – in a baffling position. The DOS’s treatment of us was full of contradictions.
It’s important to note the DOS’s modus operandi was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in any other language school or university. It was like a toxic micromanagement style: he would go to different classes – and to individual students whom he had apparently planted as ‘moles’ within each class – asking them if they were happy with their teachers, and would tell them that if there was the slightest aspect of the teaching that they weren’t satisfied with, he would punish the relevant teacher and take them off the class (in my case, after two days). The teachers’ heads were basically being put on a plate for Quicklearn students to dispose of at will.
This DOS would sometimes listen to teachers outside the classroom door, and one day he hauled me over the coals as he said he had been listening to me and that my ‘Teacher Talking Time’ was too high. He used to tell us that he had over 20 years of a brilliant teaching record behind him and that none of us could hold a candle to him. I would often work a six-day week for him, and sometimes after teaching all day I would be asked to take an evening class as well, which I would always agree to as I wanted to be flexible and helpful to my employer, despite his brutality. I remember some very long, tiring weeks where he would say to me at the end of the week that he had got some ‘boring’ comments about me. He expected 100 per cent positive feedback and apparently paid bonuses for such.
At one meeting, when I told him that I felt that some of these student complaints were not well-founded pedagogically, he shouted at me that he ‘didn’t give a flying f— about pedagogy‘; when I put it to him that he didn’t have the basic classroom technology that other schools had, such as a PC and overhead projector, he shouted that he ‘didn’t give a flying f— about technology‘. At another meeting, he criticized my clothes and appearance, telling me I ‘had this whole homeless thing going on‘.
Quicklearn, though mainly a school for adult learners, sometimes took short-term groups of junior learners from Spain and Italy. I was always given those groups when they arrived, and in general, the behaviour was extremely disrespectful, plus the group leaders were disdainful and unconcerned with behavioural issues. I had to walk out of one class where the shouting and banging on tables became too stressful after several weeks of putting up with it. I had told the DOS several times about it and requested help but he did nothing.
As a sensitive and conscientious teacher, I was devastated by the aggressive, intimidating and threatening meetings and the general working atmosphere. I would have sleepless, tearful nights, going into work with a knot in my stomach, and always feeling very tense in class in case students complained. All the other teachers felt the same.
In October, after long months of this harassment, I finally snapped. One morning he came into the classroom and suddenly removed me and told me there were more complaints. These complaints came from two students who were always coming into class twenty minutes late and were always on their phones. These two blamed my teaching for their unwillingness to come into class. Upset and angry, I told him that these students were ‘dickheads’ whereupon he fired me on the spot.
Paradoxically, I felt deep relief at having been removed from this hugely stressful atmosphere, in which my self-esteem had been torn apart by the relentless bullying tactics of this Director of Studies. As luck would have it, I immediately started work at my present school where I’ve been so much happier, and much more valued, appreciated and respected, since I began there.
I agree with ELT Advocacy that this prevalent model (in Dublin) of for-profit private ELT schools is a structure which seems to foster problems for teachers – for instance, in Quicklearn, the DOS I’ve been writing about was recruiter, supervisor, HR function, management and owner all in one, so that he had the power to hire, fire and bully without any oversight. The staff had no recourse to anyone if they had grievances. I felt his treatment of me and my colleagues amounted to workplace abuse. This model is not conducive to fostering a safe working environment for teachers. The current moves on the part of Unite the Union and ELT Advocacy, to achieve regulation of the sector, are to be greatly welcomed and supported by all of us teachers and other stakeholders, including our students.
Because this DOS clearly subjected me to unfair dismissal, I am currently seeking advice on the options open to me for redress. And I would encourage other teachers who have been treated badly to look at legal options. But apart from issues of bullying and unjust termination, there now needs to be a root and branch reform, overhaul and proper statutory regulation of the ELT industry. I’m glad to now be joining the campaign for better conditions for Irish teachers of English as a foreign language, including proper sick pay, holiday pay, payment for the many additional hours of preparation and marking, security of tenure, and, as I’ve been arguing for in this testimony to my own experiences, protection from unfair dismissal and from harassment. Not to mention much better wages.
And, at the end of the day, I love what I do – I love languages, teaching, translation, reading, and research within translation studies and literary studies. I would say that, while far from perfect, I’m reasonably good at what I do, and 110 per cent committed and passionate about language pedagogy and research. And so, like my colleagues in this industry, I deserve to be properly treated and respected.
I would finally like to thank ELT Advocacy for their support when I recently contacted them, and for giving me this opportunity to bear witness to my own bruising experiences – though the future looks brighter.
by Kieran O’Driscoll
Myth: “We don’t need unions in ELT in Ireland – that’s what ELT Advocacy is for.”
Why can’t teachers’ associations, like ELT Advocacy Ireland – or even ELT Ireland – speak up for us as teachers when we are in trouble with our employers or need to address problems regulating our employment?
Well, there is an important reason: associations like ours have no official standing under Irish law, but unions do. Unions exist to be accountable to – and representative of – their memberships.
Some associations don’t want to engage with real world issues even if that would make teachers feel safer from exploitation at work and thereby keep knowledgeable, experienced ELT pros in the sector. Anything you can learn at a Teacher Association conference is great, but at the end of the day, it’s non-essential in a world where we have to pay rent and get by. Remember, qualifications, experience and CPD are widely not recognised by language schools in Ireland as being important because pay scales do not exist. Yes, conferences are great, but being properly paid for your skills and expertise is more important.
A decent level of pay (provided for through a contract) with fair terms and conditions of employment: now that’s essential if you want to do more than survive for a few fun, nervy years of your ELT career.
Unions are about work. They understand your pay and prospects as the real nuts and bolts of what brings you to your workplace day in and day out. Thus union membership is part of assuring the development of professionals, a profession and professionalism. If a teacher is unsafe at work because of bullying, coercion or poor/illegal management and pay practice, they will quit when feasible. Good teachers sometimes are forced out or fired because they stand against a policy which may be financially clever but pedagogically unsound or plain old exploitative. Unions can work to fight and hopefully pre-empt both.
Union membership is different to teacher association membership. It’s more than social media and the shiny, glossy bits like conferences, networking, papers and talks. It’s about the nitty gritty of working life. For that reason, don’t expect your union rep to get as excited as you when you get published or run a good workshop or develop a new course or book. Because that stuff only happens when teachers feel safe and hopeful and supported. As educators we remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Safety and security come first. And too many times we have to pretend to have a feeling of safety and security. We feel that way because when we let the smile slip we find our hours being cut. Right now, this is the situation in Ireland. This is not abstract.
We need to stand up in a real way for English Language Teachers and Teaching. Teachers’ Associations can’t do that when it really matters. For example: when bullying or unfair dismissal occurs how do TAs react? What can they realistically do? For example, is ELT Ireland talking about how to get teachers’ voices heard as the new Quality and Qualifications Assurance Amendment Bill and its regulations come through the Dáil Education Committee? How can we legally engage in that process without joining a union? We’ve asked the TDs. They said join the union. That’s how you can stand up and be counted.
Unions aren’t ‘bad boss insurance’- they are your only real representative voice. That’s a hard fact. This is especially important as government is regulating our sector, and they are doing so right now. And so we all need the union now.
Unions are the only organisations that can cover teachers in every ELT school in Ireland. Marketing English in Ireland doesn’t represent teachers in ELT schools – just its member schools. Just like QQI, it has no elected English language teachers’ representatives. ACELS is little more than a logo. ELT Ireland’s committee facilitates regular Manager Meet-ups for a percentage of their members yet they seem unconcerned about the upcoming regulations which will affect all of their members each day they work at an ELT school in Ireland. Why so blasé? How did it come to be that we can be concerned about the truth about learning styles but not the truth around our own employment styles? Can the importance of real regulation be slipping by all of the committee? Are teachers’ lives so shameful that they must be hidden? Seriously? This is important. Why the hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil routine about English language teacher poverty and precarity?
Who should do the time-consuming work of representing teachers in ELT schools across the country? Who should submit legally-specific proposals related to the regulations proposed in the Dáil? Who should coordinate and discuss our needs across our sector?
We’ve asked the TDs. And all of them said join the union. That’s the only way you can have your voice heard at the level of government in order to make positive changes in ELT and eventually make it a viable profession.
The answer is not ‘Advocacy’. ‘Advocacy’ is asking the question. The answer is unions.
My parents always told me: People only respect you to the degree you respect yourself. That lesson applies here now. As a sector we need to union up to demonstrate that we exist and that we take our sector, our jobs and our lives seriously.
The only way to make ELT a real profession is to respect our work enough to organise and not let school owners and government happily ignore English language teachers as soft touch labour for another year. WE CAN’T LET THIS OPPORTUNITY SLIP AWAY. JOIN. And use your voice.
Unionised teachers are making progress with government for English language teacher recognition in Ireland. Be proud of that. Every week they are making the case clearer to the Dáil – including this week, by giving a briefing in the Dáil about the type of contracts, work and pay which we deal with. Support them as they speak up for us.
Join and make your voice heard. Don’t just ‘engage in Professional Development’. Instead, address the real issue: we need to Develop the Profession. That’s what we need first and foremost. We need to regulate our sector through the Dáil. We have as much a right to do so as the school owners.
We can regulate ELT together through the QQA Amendment Bill but only as union members. Advocacy is just a first step. It’s how to ask the question. The action, the answer, is joining and developing a functioning union of ELT workers in Ireland.
Then come back and and we’ll talk about CPD.
Next Wednesday the 18th of October at 12.30pm, Unite ELT branch members, ELT activists and supporters are holding a protest at the top of Capel Street in Dublin against a form of employment abuse that has been going on in the ELT sector for far too long.
There are English language schools in Dublin right now who are forcing their teachers into bogus self-employment. This means some school owners and managers in ILEP-listed schools are forcing teachers to work as ‘contractors’, sending invoices to the school for their work. Revenue Commissioners have stated very clearly that by their definitions, English language teaching work (taking place in schools with a syllabus for a course) is not and cannot be considered self-employment.
Classing ELT workers as self-employed is bogus. It’s also damaging to everyone working in the industry, as better employers are competing with those using coercive employment; and the customer doesn’t know right from wrong. Visa renewal students make their school choice based on factors unrelated to employment law and are mostly unaware of the treatment of their teachers. They will generally believe the sales and marketing reps who sell them the moon on a stick and often have no training or understanding of the treatment of ELTs or the precarious nature of their work.
Though these schools often insist that they are acting within the law, and that it works out better for the teachers, these statements are false. Self-employed teachers will almost certainly end up paying more tax, are not entitled to social welfare or fixed rate expenses, and they are open to investigation and potential legal issues should the school where they are contracted obfuscate their tax affairs. I have personally heard evidence from teachers in bogus self-employment that this is the case in many schools across both Dublin and nationwide. This is both alarming and sadly reminiscent of the situation which preceded the closure of 16 language schools in 2014. Failure by the authorities to listen to one of the major stakeholders in this situation – the teachers – only hastens the next crisis. What is different this time is that we are organising and we have an alternative, put forward by English language teachers.
Some schools start teachers on the payroll, only to then demand that the teachers change their status to self-employed once they have been working there for a period of time. We have to ask, who benefits most from this arrangement, teachers or the school owners? English language teaching as an entity does not. This is a strategy employed by business owners to simply cheat employees out of access to their statutory workers’ rights under Irish law.
Some schools understand the stress and powerlessness caused by bogus self-employment and dishonestly lure teachers in by offering a real contract at the end of the first month as an incentive. A month-long trial period for a low-paid precarious job. Classed as self-employed, despite there being no legal basis for this. The employer can dismiss you when they want or when you are surplus to requirement. Self-employment as ‘probation period’ makes coercion and bullying more prevalent and ingrained in the culture of the company. There are schools in Dublin who have dismissed teachers when they refused to work as self-employed contractors. Citing the ‘nature of the industry’, they leave their employees a Hobson’s choice.
For far too long now, the vocabulary of the industry has been dictated by the vested interests of the school owners. This is happening in more than a couple of schools in Dublin, and not just in those schools without QQI approval. Using bogus self-employment forces struggling English language teachers into even more precarious working conditions, without the safety net of social welfare to protect them should the school close suddenly, as in 2014. We heard of ‘visa factories’ and ‘cowboy schools’ and we were led to believe that after the spate of school closures in 2014 things would change, and they did indeed change – for some connected vested interests. But teachers outside and inside of schools are still an afterthought in the education business. Left out in the cold in 2014, and still left out, today we are dealing with vulture employers who force their teachers into bogus self-employment.
The Department of Education, MEI and ACELS/QQI have all spoken of their intention to achieve sustainable growth in the industry. The plan seems to be to keep this growth for owners at the expense of teacher’s lives and rights. Where are we as stakeholders mentioned in any of the current legislation passing through the Education committee, the Quality and Qualifications Assurance (Amendment) Bill? Unite the Union will fight for the inclusion of the 10 Point Charter for English Language teachers in the planned International Education Mark, and we will fight to eradicate bogus self-employment in our industry. We need your support at the protest and beyond to show these vested interests that we will not be silenced any longer and that our voices will be heard.
The gig economy, so often in the news recently, is an extension of bogus self-employment. Workers from Deliveroo, Uber and Ryanair are standing up to their vulture employers and saying enough is enough. If we teachers tolerate this, our jobs will be next. Join us at the top of Capel Street, beside DCAS, from 12.30pm – 1.45pm on Wednesday the 18th of October. Say no to vulture employers, no to unfair dismissal and bullying and no to bogus self-employment. Let our voices be heard.
Chair, Unite ELT Branch