Belfast Solidarity Action With TEFL Worker Lara
Members of the Industrial Workers of the World held a protest action this afternoon outside of the Blue Arrow offices in Donegal Square in Belfast. The action was held as part of a series of ongoing actions to demand the immediate reinstatement of our fellow worker Lara.
Representatives of IWW Belfast delivered a letter of protest to the Blue Arrow group, calling on the immediate reinstatement of Lara with full pay.
A protest was held on the outside of the premises and several hundred solidarity leaflets were distributed to the public on the streets about the action. Ongoing actions will continue over the coming weeks and months to help highlight the case.
Background & Further information:
Precarious contracts are all too common across the English language teaching industry. Online teachers, in particular, often suffer the most when it comes to insecure work. But while this might not be surprising at dodgy ‘online platforms’, one might expect something better from an organisation as prominent as the British Council. Unfortunately that’s not the case.
The TEFL Workers’ Union represents Lara (not her real name), who previously worked at the British Council (BC).
Lara worked as an online teacher, providing lessons for students who were paying the British Council and her work was overseen by a British Council manager. Yet, she was hired as a ‘contractor’ and then ‘temporary worker’ from Carbon60 and later Flexy.
In March 2022, her contract for BC was abruptly terminated. Access to her teacher portal account was suddenly blocked. No feedback was provided.
As a member of the union, Lara reached out to a rep for support. A letter was sent directly to British Council managers who redirected our request for Lara’s reinstatement to Comensura, an outsourcing agency. One of the companies linked to Commensura replied that they were not required to provide notice when terminating a teacher’s contract.
As you would imagine, Lara felt mistreated in many ways. Was she treated in such a discouraging and hurtful way because her face did not fit? Was it because of not being a UK-born speaker? Was this treatment due to the fact that she needed to see her doctor several times unexpectedly and could not work?
In her time working at the BC, her managers never raised any concerns, either about her teaching or disciplinary matters. Having her account blocked without notice or explanation means that she is left only with questions.
No one wants to assume the worst. But when an organisation as prominent as the British Council uses agencies to deliver their lessons and those agencies refuse to provide any explanation, it’s difficult not to assume the worst.
What about the British Council’s core values, including equality, diversity and inclusion?
Does this not apply when the BC subcontracts out teachers?
Lara’s case echoes concerns that have been raised at the British Council before. In 2022, the Guardian reported that white executives at the British Council had been accused of discriminating against black staff members in Kenya when selecting staff for redundancy.
In another case, a disabled British Council teacher, Emily Frisby, spent years trying to secure reasonable adjustments as a teacher in Morocco. The BC ultimately argued that since Frisby was employed outside of the UK, the provisions of the Equality Act did not apply despite the fact the BC is a UK-based employer funded by the British government.
According to the lead IWW caseworker, Gabriella Cioce:
“We have a clear case of growing precarious employment within the English teaching industry. Women and migrants in particular face unstable and insecure labour arrangements. We’re here to let TEFL bosses know that, whatever they may think, they don’t get to dispose of workers like Lara on a whim.”
We call on the British Council to take Lara’s case seriously and to offer reinstatement with immediate effect.
Our message for the British Council is clear: You need to stop hiding behind agencies. Deal directly with Lara to make this situation right.
Then, stop using agencies altogether. If you want to advertise that the British Council offers online lessons, those lessons need to be run by the BC. We will not allow you to drive down wages and working conditions by outsourcing your responsibilities as an employer.
What can you do to help Lara? What can you do to improve working conditions at BC?
Let the British Council know that they can’t get away with just quietly sacking staff without explanation or process. Let the BC know that you demand justice. Let the BC know you support Lara.
Please send the following tweet (feel free to adapt!) :
.@BritishCouncil Justice for online teachers! No more sacking w/o notice or process! No more hiding behind agencies. It’s to time to #ReinstateLara! @comensura_uk #tefl #elt #UKELT @TeflUnion
– – – The TEFL Workers’ Union is part of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and is the only union actively organising and representing workers in the UK’s English language schools. The British Council is a public corporation funded by the UK government that operates in over 100 countries. For press enquiries or if you’re a language school worker who needs support at work, the TEFL Workers’ Union can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org