Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Questions (42)

Joan Collins


42. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to address the working conditions of English language teachers in private schools (details supplied). [45344/17]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Education)

I will read out the full question because the details have been included, which I did not request. Will the Minister address the working conditions of English language teachers in private schools? There are approximately 120 of them. Will he lay down standards in the industry that do not only adhere to basic employment law but exceed it to ensure these wealthy schools treat teachers as any worker would expect to be treated? Will the Minister legislate for zero-hour contracts to be banned and provide that a high percentage of teachers must have permanent contracts, that all schools must have a proper salary scale which reflects service and experience, and that all schools must pay sick pay, for all hours worked and overtime?

The majority of English language schools in Ireland are privately run.  The relationship between teachers and private providers of education is based on a private contract. Issues relating to working conditions are a matter between the two parties and do not come under the remit of the Department.  There is an extensive range of legislation in Ireland which protects the employment rights of workers, including English language teachers, to employment contracts, payment of wages and related matters. It is the responsibility of the employer, in the first instance, to ensure their employees receive their employment rights. Where an employee considers his or her rights have been breached, he or she may bring a claim under the appropriate legislation to the Workplace Relations Commission. The Workplace Relations Commission has a range of services available including adjudication, inspection and advisory services. There is also provision for the negotiation of sectoral pay agreements and having those registered with the Labour Court. 

In May 2017, when I was in my previous Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, on my proposal the Government approved the drafting of legislation to meet the commitment in the programme for Government to address problems caused by the increased casualisation of work and zero-hour contracts and to strengthen the regulation of precarious work. The draft legislation has been subject to a detailed dialogue process with ICTU and IBEC over a period of several months. The Bill is being drafted and it is intended to publish it before the end of the year subject to Government approval.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply. The Government keeps coming back to us and saying there is the Workplace Relations Commission process. The Minister of State knows that some of the issues that affect teachers in the sector, such as bogus self-employment, the absence of employment contracts and paying less to non-native teachers, breach legislation and can be tackled through a third party although it is virtually impossible to do so because of the precarious nature of the work. The most prevalent issues are completely legal although they are wrong. They are things such as maintaining all teachers on fixed term or zero-hour contracts, not paying for non-contract hours worked, not paying sick pay, taking an anti-union approach, allowing a fixed term contract to expire in December and rehiring in January to avoid holiday pay and having no salary scales. None of those things is illegal because of the terrible employment legislation we have in this country. Those workers, through Unite, are looking for an SEO to be put into the qualifications and quality assurance (amendment) Bill. The Minister should at least meet the representatives of the unions.

I thank the Deputy. She has raised the issue numerous times in the Chamber. A core component of the Government's future policy for the English language sector will be the introduction of the international education mark, IEM.  It is the intention that the regulations governing the IEM will include a requirement that all obligations concerning national employment legislation are complied with by education and training providers seeking to access the mark. The necessary legislation to facilitate the introduction of the IEM is being progressed through the Department of Education and Skills.  This legislation will also provide Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, which will manage the IEM, with additional powers to examine the bona fides of providers, including English language education providers. 

There is a huge opportunity here with the Bill, which is going through committee, to address the demands I have raised.

If the State can legislate for the size of desks, the classroom temperature, the ownership, administration and health and safety, why can the State not legislate for workers' rights?

Unite, the union representing 100 workers - it is not 50% of the workforce; it is about 1,200; it fluctuates - has tried to meet the Minister of State and the Minister for Education and Skills to go through these issues. If things are being organised in the background as the Minister of State has said, it would be an opportunity to talk to those workers and their union about what protection could be offered to them. The first thing the Minister and Minister of State should do is meet representatives of Unite and the workers themselves. They have not done so; they have already met representatives of MEI, but have not met the people most affected in the workplace. I appeal to the Minister of State to meet them and we can relay that information on to them.

I hear what the Deputy is saying and we will consider what she has suggested. I had not heard that I was asked to meet that group, but I have no problem doing so.