By Harper Cleves
The teachers at the Delfin Language School have voted to take strike action in order to put pressure on management to recognise the union of their choice, Unite. This decision was made following repeated attempts by Unite the Union to discuss the concerns of the workers with the management at Delfin.
Teachers organised and participated in two half-day work stoppages on the 23 and 30 September in order to put pressure on Delfin, but to no avail. After this they came out on strike on Monday, 7 October and are due to step up their action in the following week with two days of strike action planned.
According to an English language teacher interviewed at the picket, this dispute can be traced back to a year ago, when the management team at Delfin attempted to strongarm workers into signing low hour contracts, guaranteeing only three hours of work a week. This inspired workers to self organise and look into joining the English Language Teachers (ELT) branch of Unite. Within a year, Delfin achieved 100% union membership.
Delfin workers are organising in order to fight back against low pay, unpaid breaks, and a lack of holiday pay. The owners of Delfin close the workplace officially for two weeks at Christmas, forcing teachers to sign up for the dole, which many are not eligible for as they have not accrued enough PRSI points while teaching English abroad.
Such conditions are reflected across the sector. A government report conducted by an independent mediator found that in a sector with over 100 schools, the vast majority of teachers are dissatisfied with the security and conditions of their employment. Most teachers described their employment as ‘precarious’, because of the uncertainty of their teaching hours, low pay, and the number of school closures that have occurred with little to no warning for the staff, often including withheld wages. This is a highly profitable industry that is worth €800 million per annum, a figure that will likely rise as more students will come to Ireland from Europe in the aftermath of Brexit.
The government report was prompted, in fact, by the sudden closure and subsequent occupation of the Grafton Language School in Portobello, which the ELT branch of Unite played a crucial role in. The ELT branch itself began in 2015 following the closure of 16 languages schools over the course of one year. One of the proposed new amendments to the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill 2018, which flowed from this report, and was pushed for by ELT branch members, would require all English Language Schools abide by Irish Employment Law.
In a system driven by the blind pursuit of profit, workers cannot rely on the benevolence of their bosses, as the workers at Delfin are now demonstrating. It is only through co-ordinated action that workers are able to wrest even basic rights from the hands of the capitalist class. This year we have seen increased evidence of workers organising themselves. The paramedics organising in NASRA are engaged in a continuous battle to have the fighting union of their choice recognised by the HSE.
Currently, the Wrightbus workers in Ballymena, County Antrim are fighting to protect job losses after the company went bust following capitalist mismanagement. And just recently the workers at Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, with the help of Unite the Union Organiser, and Socialist Party member Susan Fitzgerald, managed to save their jobs following a several month occupation of their workplace.
These workers were bolstered by demonstrations of solidarity by other workplaces, as well as the increasingly militant mood of workers on this island and internationally. The Delfin workers will need similar solidarity combined with their determined action.