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Minimum wage hike to hit UK summer courses

UK residential summer schools face a massive rise in staff costs this summer with minimum wage rates rising up to 23% since 2019, the last pre-Covid summer season, and the government refusing to allow temporary work visas for EU teachers.

Minimum wage, or living wage, as the rate of those aged over 23 is officially called, is hourly in the UK rather than weekly or monthly. It must be paid for every working hour, defined under English law as every hour that the worker is awake and on-site at the employer’s disposal or travelling for work. In residential summer schools these hours on duty mount up quickly with teachers, for example, expected to put students to bed, wake them up, eat with them,  accompany them on trips and often pick them up from the airport.

Most UK summer schools require all residential staff to agree to work more than 48 hours a week, and to live and eat on-site at least six days a week. Though paying for staff room and board can run into £200 a week, a maximum of  £58 can be deducted for these benefits when calculating minimum wage.

The only good news for the sector in terms of wage bills is that this April the Supreme Court ruled that workers do not need to be paid minimum wage when sleeping on-site, as long as an agreed amount, to be decided between employers and staff, was paid for those on call while sleeping.

From  summer 2022, any school requiring staff aged over 21 to waive their rights to a 48-hour week and offering weekly pay at below £390 plus holiday pay is certainly breaking the law. For an average 60-hour week on duty, staff can expect to earn £492 a week or £512 if they are 23 or older. Having staff on duty for the full 72 hours allowable by law, which is not unknown in EFL summer schools, would bring the weekly figure to over £600 unless those employees are under 21.

Employers complaining about the impact of these rises on EFL should remember that the minimum rates for teachers is the same as that for fruit pickers. The problem is not the hourly rate of pay, but the number of hours the teachers are on duty.

But while EU fruit pickers can come into the UK next summer on short-term contracts, EU English language teacher cannot. The Government has refused industry demands that EU teachers be allowed special summer school visas. No reason was given, but the anti-migrant UK press would be quick to exploit a story involving East European teachers coming into the UK to teach English even though those teachers are often far more qualified and experienced than their native-speaker peers.

With the main EFL union already busy taking cases against language schools to employment tribunal even when staff involved were not previously union members, the summer of 2022 could prove an expensive one for UK summer schools. 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock
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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