June 2017 (EL Gazette)
Members of the Unite trade union in Ireland held a protest outside the Department of Education in Dublin today, calling for better pay and conditions.
Prior to the rally, the Unite ELT branch committee had requested a meeting with Ireland education minister Richard Bruton to discuss how to improve current wage and working conditions for ELT teachers. However, the members said Bruton had refused to meet with them, referring them to the Workplace Relations Commission because they were employed by private companies and not the government.
Regional organiser Roy Hassey agreed to speak to the EL Gazette about the protest and why they felt it was important.
What do you hope to achieve in this protest?
We want the minister of education to sit down with a small delegation from the Unite ELT branch and for the first time listen to the concerns of teachers. Mr Bruton has met with all other stakeholders in the industry but has not spoken to teachers or the representatives of teachers.
We want the minister to acknowledge the pervasive abuse of employment rights that occur in the sector and include the regulation of employment law and the application of basic standards in employment legislation in the sector.
It is also important to highlight an industry which is worth billions to the Irish economy and is an enormous growth sector but has employment practices from the dark ages. Over 100 English language schools exist in the state employing up to 1,200 teachers at any one time. The majority of these schools are hugely profitable, but Unite members live in a nether world of contractless jobs, zero hour contracts, bogus self-employment, no job security, unpaid work [and] discrimination against non-native speakers.
How long have you been trying to make contact with education and skills minister Richard Bruton and has he given you any reason as to why he hasn’t responded to your demands?
We originally wrote to the minister in March requesting a meeting. He responded to us some time later stating that “a meeting was unnecessary” as any issues around employment can be referred to the Workplace Relations Commission as these were for-profit businesses. However the government regulates virtually every aspect of the industry around the ownership and administration of schools, to how many students should be in each class, temperatures in the rooms, desk sizes, etc., but he claims they cannot regulate around employment rights for teachers. If schools are obliged to have a set number of toilets and to heat the classroom at a certain temperature, they can be regulated to ensure that teachers are paid for all hours worked, are paid an established and fair wage and have proper, legal contracts.
How many people do you expect to be at the protest?
As schools have different hours and different lunch times, it is difficult to find a time for a rally that suits everyone. We are hoping for a big turnout of teachers from city centre schools.
At the rally, union members handed in a letter reiterating the union’s concerns and request for a meeting with the minister. They were accompanied by Unite regional secretary Jimmy Kelly and opposition politicians.
*At the time of going to press, the Irish government had not responded to requests for comment from the EL Gazette.