Sacked before Christmas: A fundraiser for online teachers


Teachers at The Overseas Teacher joined the IWW and filed for an employment tribunal challenging their self-employed status before facing mass dismissal.




The TEFL Workers’ Union (part of the IWW) has set up a hardship fund to support workers whose contracts were cancelled without warning. And, to let them know that the union has got their back, the London IWW will match every donation up to £1,500.


‘I thought this job would be a perfect transition after graduation to see me through the pandemic, and loved it so much I saw it as an ideal long term job, allowing me to work as an artist. Instead my wage suddenly quartered and I’ve been sacked right before Christmas whilst also finding myself in the position of having to move flat, a time when the income would have been absolutely vital and one less stress on my plate.’  –  Fiona*


IMAGINE: You’re young. Motivated. Idealistic. You get a job as an online English teacher. You’re promised training and a qualification. 


When the job starts – a month later than promised – only then do you discover that you’re on a self-employed contract. Your pay is the minimum wage for your age, as little at £6.45/hr. You’re subject to a regime of fines and management changes the terms of the contract on a whim.  

If you raise concerns – and you’re lucky enough to get a response – your manager tells you that it’s not their problem: it’s their business partner calling the shots. So take it or leave it, sunshine.

The teachers joined the IWW when The Overseas Teacher announced a unilateral change to their contracts. Their pay would drop from 30 minutes for each half hour lesson to only 25 minutes of pay for each 30-minute lesson. This, plus the steady stream of fines for lateness or sickness, meant sub-minimum wages across the company.

One teacher was fined for drinking water during class! Imagine telling your plumber you’re going to dock their pay because they drank a sip of water while fixing your shower. 


 “It seemed like a fantastic opportunity to be able to work from home during an uncertain period. However, this ‘fantastic’ opportunity soon took a turn for the worst when our pay was cut and fines introduced for drinking water and not smiling enough. Even with these ludicrous rules and unfair pay deductions I continued because I enjoyed teaching great kids who were extremely enthusiastic about learning. Me and my fellow colleagues’ dedication was rewarded with being sacked right before Christmas. A decision void of consideration for our livelihoods in a difficult period.”  –   Steve*


Overseas Teacher -‘They were self-employed


The Overseas Teacher justified all this because the teachers were ‘self-employed’ – despite the fact the company trains them, provides them with students, decides the terms of their contracts, and sets rates of pay. All conditions that mean they were NOT legally self employed.

All this discontent led to meetings between union reps and company management… meetings that went nowhere. So nine teachers, with the support of their workmates, filed for an employment tribunal to challenge their self-employed status.

One day, they got an email telling them the program was being wound down. But they had a month: classes would run until the end of December. Then the very same day they got another email telling them that the program was closing immediately. No notice. And because they were ‘self-employed’, they wouldn’t be getting any redundancy.

The Overseas Teacher may have cancelled Christmas for these teachers, but the IWW won’t abandon them. They are going to show The Overseas Teacher what solidarity really means.

The TEFL Workers’ Union are asking you to make a contribution to support these courageous young workers. It’ll make their Christmas that much brighter. Every pound donated up to £1500 will be matched by the IWW’s hardship fund. 

If you’d like to donate to the fund click here.

If you’re having trouble at work, get in touch at tefl [at] iww [dot] org [dot] uk The union has your back!

*Names have been changed to protect anonymity.