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May 2018

Boost to Irish pay and conditions fight

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Talks between Ireland’s minister of employment and union representatives of teachers caught in the fallout from a recent language school failure mark a breakthrough for a campaign to improve terms and conditions in the Irish EFL sector.

The Unite union has also given a cautious welcome to Regina Doherty’s decision to introduce a law banning zero-hour contracts, a major plank of the EFL teachers’ campaign.

Unite organiser Roy Hassey told the Gazette that the Irish government has agreed to work with Unite to make LanLearn, a Limerick school which closed down in March, involuntarily insolvent. This would allow some ten teachers from the school to access the country’s insolvency fund. LanLearn closed its doors in March, leaving 150 students on the streets and its teaching staff owed up to £3,000 each in unpaid salary.

The school, most of whose students come from Brazil, ran into trouble after losing its right to enrol non-EU nationals.

The students enrolled in the school were covered by learner protection insurance and have now all been offered places at another language school, according to the Irish Council for International Students.

The Irish branch of British-based Unite has been championing the rights of Ireland’s EFL teaching staff for some time. Demands have included the end to ‘bogus’ self-employment and zero-hours contracts. The association of Irish accredited schools, MEI, has written to its members reminding them that under Irish law it is almost impossible for teachers working at schools to qualify for freelance status.

David O’Grady, chief executive of the association, has also told the Gazette he welcomes the ban on zero-hours contracts.

Much of the problem lies in the growth of unaccredited schools in a market that has seen substantial growth in the last four years.

The situation has been exacerbated by the government closure of the Acels accreditation scheme and its failure to introduce the alternative Irish Quality Mark scheme, first mooted in 2004.

Unable to become accredited, many new schools have been forced to go downmarket and sell on price, forcing down teachers’ hourly rates – even in some accredited schools.

According to Unite’s Roy Hassey, the plan to outlaw zero-hour contracts will be beneficial, ‘but only if the legislation is policed.’

He added: ‘Plenty of English language schools … have flagrantly ignored previous employment legislation so there is nothing to suggest they won’t ignore this legislation unless Unite and our members force them not to.’

The new law will also oblige an employer to supply a written contract within five days of starting work and make employers provide contracts where the specified hours accurately reflect the hours an employee is actually working.

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