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Irish mandate new EFL employment rules

MEI Ireland, which represents the majority of Irish language schools, has ruled itself out of talks on new employment standards for EFL, the Gazette understands.

On 23 June, 90 percent of MEI members voted against amending the constitution to allow it to enter into any discussions which could lead to collective bargaining.

Two weeks later, on 11 July, the Irish parliament, the Oireachtas, passed a bill regulating the provision of international education. The new act specifies the need to ensure “quality standards” of employment.

The Irish Minister for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, told the Irish Times on 22 July that she had formally requested the establishment of an employment regulation order for the EFL sector.

Amendments to the draft bill to include teachers’ working conditions were prompted by the sudden closure, last December, of Grafton College, an MEI member school. It was the latest in a wave of closures, predominantly among non-MEI schools, to hit Ireland.

MEI schools took in more than 400 Grafton students. However, press attention became increasingly focused on the teaching staff who were left unpaid and without a job.

Questions about the teachers’ plight were raised in both houses of parliament, prompting the Minister to appoint a mediator in January to investigate employment conditions in the sector.

The mediator’s report, issued in late June, acknowledges he found “little evidence of a desire for statutorily-based minimum working conditions” among the 92 providers, including MEI members, who attended meetings with him. It did note, however, a clear desire, “for a strict accreditation regime for schools with… common standards.”

According to the report, the mediator received submissions from over 100 teachers, with most responding to a letter distributed at an ELT Ireland conference.

Some teachers reported good conditions at their schools, but the “overwhelming” majority were critical. The report did not differentiate responses between teachers from the unaccredited sector and employees of MEI schools. However, it notes that, “all of the employees [who responded] asked that minimum employment  standards be put in place.”

MEI, whose 66 members enrol more than 90 per cent of the students studying English in Ireland, has held throughout that there was no issue with “pay and working conditions” or “staff morale” among its members. In May, it launched its own employee’s charter.

With the new act in place, MEI’s inability to represent employers in discussions on the proposed employment regulations order seems unlikely to prevent an employment regulation order being agreed.

The new act mandates consultation with representatives of education and training staff over “quality standards”. However, the only mention of employers refers to ensuring their compliance with any criteria, imposing obligations on them “with respect to their employees.”

Image courtesy of MARY MITCHELL O’CONNOR T.D.
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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