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Australian teachers win fight for wage payout

English language teachers at the Australian National College of English in Melbourne have won AUD$200,000 (approx £110,000) in unpaid wages, according to The Age newspaper.

 In a pattern that has also been seen in the UK, Malta and Canada, the teachers were backed by a small specialist trade union, in this case the Independent Education Union of Australia.

The Melbourne teachers claim to have organised the schools’ online teaching provision without management help, even paying for software subscriptions themselves, only to see their hourly wages cut following the move online.  

When they approached the Union for help, they found many of them had been misclassified as ‘casual workers’, and were owed holiday pay and sick pay, in some cases going back many years.

The schools chief executive, who confirmed a settlement had been reached with staff, said the company was considering closing the school following a plunge in enrolment to just 18 students. 

The country’s English language industry, known as ELICOS, has seen enrolment fall by 30% during the pandemic, with a further 30% of those currently enrolled having to take their course online until the borders are re-opened. 

A spokesperson for the Union told The Age the problems facing the sector did not justify “the rampant exploitation we’ve seen from some employers… Under-award pay rates… dodgy casual contracts and denial of redundancy pay and other basic entitlements are simply not acceptable ways… to run a business.” 

Across the English-speaking world the threat of school closures has increased unionisation, especially among workers on casual contracts who need to establish their legal right to unpaid salary and redundancy money before the company goes under. 

In 2020, for example, following the closure of another Melbourne school, the Independent Education Union of Australia helped teachers reclaim thousands of dollars in unpaid pension contributions and holiday pay.  

Image courtesy of David Clode on Unsplash
Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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