Enough is enough – say NO to vulture employers

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.

Keith Murdiff

Chair, Unite ELT Branch

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1 thought on “Enough is enough – say NO to vulture employers

  1. Great article. I was indeed reminded of the ELT situation when reading of the Ryanair pilots. They pointed out that without pilots, there are no flights. Similarly, without teachers, there are no schools.


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