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  • Writer's pictureIWW Ireland


Melissa Angarita Cardenas was a Sales Rep at SEDA College on Capel Street one of the largest English Language Schools in Dublin, Ireland. She challenged her employer in 2020 and finally won a ruling for payment totalling over €40,000 by Ireland’s ACAS, the Workplace Relations Commission or the WRC this month. The total awarded was €44,849. But she went through a battle to get this nominal award. Melissa worked the Spanish-language Latin American market from October 2016 until February 2020. But after over three years working there successfully she complained about not getting her promised commissions and eventually mentioned discrimination and treatment from management and ownership changed dramatically.

In Ireland, reporting or helping report discrimination in a workplace is a protected act. The employers took the word discrimination very seriously but not in a smart way. They didn’t seem to know the law has special protections for those reporting discrimination or how to act when she said she would report them. They seemed to believe she didn’t know her protections and seriously underestimated Melissa’s ability to learn the law quickly and fight.

Instead of looking to resolve the issue and pay the outstanding commission, they became defensive. Then, just as they were starting to go on the offensive by taking away access to her work emails and putting in place a replacement, covid hit.

But this didn’t stop her. It might have actually given her more time to learn about how stand up for herself in the Workplace Relations Commission or the WRC, Ireland’s equivalent of ACAS.

She correctly put in 10 separate claims for each of the different aspects of employment regulation she believed they had broken. Five on 2 February 2020 about wages and hours, 2 more on 23 February with one taken under the Employment Equality Act of 1998, then two final challenges taken six months into the covid crisis in September 2020.

She won on all of them. This recent battery of cases won against bad bosses at SEDA shows workers should always fight. The largest awards were for clear complaints of discrimination.

Losing a job at an English language school is not the end of the world. Almost all break employment law… their best defense is our inaction… which stems from our lack of familiarity with employment law or our lack of familiarity with support and solidarity. Melissa had to rely on Citizens Information (Ireland’s Citizens Advice), her family, and her wits. She did pretty well.

Your union can help you see the issues breaching employment law if you get to meetings regularly and stay in contact with your rep and Officers. As a worker it pays to know workers’ rights. And we need to learn about them just like our employers need to know. This was learning the hard way for both.

In these cases Melissa was not always aware of how to demonstrate her case, but she laid everything she could find out clearly for the adjudicator. SEDA’s management showed below average understanding of the laws protecting their workers. They showed their true colors so clearly the adjudicator awarded over 40,000 Euros.

Well done to this worker for fighting. She deserved better.

It pays to know your rights – and to be a member of the union. The TEFL Workers’ Union believe no one who works a language school – whether you’re a teacher, in the admin staff, or a cleaner – should face problems alone. The best defence is always to know your rights and have the support of a union if any problems do come up. It’s to speak to a rep.

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