COVID has seen a large influx of members to and activity within the union.  We’ve of course continued the work of the union: media, social media, outreach, training up new union reps, solidarity with other unions and social struggles, and writing about issues affecting the industry.  But our main focus has been supporting our members through this difficult period.  We’re glad to say that we’ve had some real successes and we honestly believe that the presence of the union has been a small but effective counter-balance to employers in an industry where companies regularly run roughshod over their staff.

Here’s a roundup of what we’ve been up to:

The main work of the union has been to support staff going through redundancy. This support has taken the form of redundancy law training sessions, more specific legal advice, representation in consultation meetings, as well as general organising advice.  This has also seen a growth in activity outside of London and, in particular, the union has a growing membership in Brighton, Bristol and Manchester.

So far, we’ve supported or are currently supporting staff at four major language school chains.  This includes EF and St. Giles, where the support of the union was public and known to management.  We have also supported staff at a number of other independent schools during their redundancy process.

Also at EF:

·  After a letter from the union, secured furlough for one employee who’d been denied it because they were out the country at the time scheme was announced
·  After being raised by union members, secured back pay for a large number of teachers who’d undertaken required, unpaid training at the start of their job
We’ve also helped out a number of teachers who, due to being falsely classified as self-employed, lost out on furlough pay.  In one instance, we have an outstanding employment tribunal claim for over 15 members of staff which we fully expect to win. This could see the employer pay up to £30,000 in unpaid wages to the workers.Another employee, also denied their rightful furlough pay, was able to secure a large payout from their employer after union reps approached the school and negotiated a settlement.

In another victory, the union won two years of backdated holiday pay for a teacher.  The person in question had been on a zero-hours contract and the employer claimed to be unaware that zero-hours workers were entitled to accrue holiday. Not on our watch!

In the world of online English language teaching, we secured the rightful bonus of one teacher when their school tried to deny them hundreds of pounds to which they were entitled.

At another online language school, the union has a substantial and growing presence.  Union representatives have already met with management to address a number of issues around pay and conditions.

While we hope that we’ve at least helped to hold employers to the basic legal standards during the COVID crisis – something that can’t be taken for granted in the world of TEFL – this is going to be a tough time for those of us in the industry.

We hope that, having had experience with how a union functions in the workplace, our new members and potential members across the industry will carry these lessons forward with them whether they stay in their current school or move on to a new school in the future.  If you work in TEFL and have a problem at work, the presence of the TEFL Workers’ Union in your industry means that you’ll never have to face that problem alone.

If you work in TEFL and you want to get involved with the union by getting trained up as a rep or lending a hand with one of our campaigns, please don’t hesitate to contact us at tefl [at] iww [dot] org [dot] uk