Friday, 10 April 2015

Angry Language Brigade brighten the day of an education correspondent

English language teaching is not a glamourous industry, there very few freebies or glamorous parties to which we at industry publication EL Gazette get invited (I'm it's news editor). It's quite unexciting. There are very few occasions when you have to write your emergency NUJ legal helpline number on your arms with a permanent marker before going out on assignment.

However, in recent months there have been a couple of these. In contrast to most private sector Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (Teflers) who just whinge and tut about their working conditions and put up with them, Angry Language Brigade (ALB) have a preferred tactic of office invasions of the receptions of employees who commit "wage theft" (have issues around outstanding payment of wages). Other ALB tactics include getting all their anarchist mates to harass said employers via Twitter and Facebook.

ALB invited me along to observe and report on one of their "actions" recently, in which they charged into the reception of a language school on Oxford Street. Management apparently held the door of their office closed in an attempt to keep them out. There was a chorus of the hymn of the radical syndicalist union Industrial Workers of the World (some ALB are members, some are not) before they retired to the pub, where an email reportedly followed from management basically saying, "What do you want?" It's all here, with a suitably punk soundtrack.

What was particularly bizarre for me was that the ALB had got the wrong building on their first attempt, and it was the SAME BUILDING WHERE I USED TO TEACH ENGLISH back in 1998, when it was the premises of the Mayfair School of English! Spooky! (Mayfair moved out some time ago.) While a confidentiality agreement between an employee and management prevented ALB from naming the school, they did point out that their gagging order on the Tefler was "fairly pointless considering the English Language Gazette had got a hold of it". (See also here.)

ALB were then part of the crew then went on to occupy the premises of the Leicester Square School of English over the Christmas holidays, as they hadn't been paid. One of the teachers (one of them, not all of them) then got a letter over the holidays saying the school had closed. The occupiers found what appeared to be an attempt to cover some evidence trails - phone lines at the school had been cut, hard drives had been removed from computers, and there was a mysterious invoice from a shredding company in Manchester for "shredding services", seen by the Gazette. (Space did not permit us from mentioning it in our short article, here.)

And ALB's campaign against the school's owner, Craig Tallents, continued relentlessly. Soon he had wound up his bizarrely-named marketing company, Asparagus, and resigned as governor of Bancroft School. There were pickets outside the Drapers' Guild, where he is a apparently a liveryman, and social media attacks on his local residents' association, where he holds some kind of office. Teflers are an extraordinary timid workforce, so when managers find themselves up against the loud and relentless ALB, they don't know what's hit them.

ALB say they've also come across a proliferating phenomenon of English language teachers on "self-employed contracts," which would appear to be illegal. While the position was recently liberalised a little bit, I understand that it is only occasional lecturers and trainers who do things like take money directly from students, hire the classroom themselves, or give "occasional lectures" who can be self-employed. Teachers who do regular "timetabled hours" must be employed on PAYE contracts.

This is under the HMRC's "Work Status" rules, although after initially agreeing to help us on this story, HMRC's press changed their mind and decided they were going to be less helpful, saying they couldn't comment on either a specific case or a hypothetical situation, which pretty much rules out everything that they might be able to comment on.

They did say that teachers who believe their "self-employed contract" is illegal should contact them - in confidence - via their Reporting Tax Evasion helpline. Good luck! We think that in practice, HMRC will go after the easier-to-recover employer's contribution National Insurance that's unpaid, and probably won't bother coming after small amounts of National Insurance Class 2 contributions from teachers.

ALB and EL Gazette's editorial team would love to hear from you if you are a Tefl teacher working on "self-employed contract" (current or recent), as would Katie Grant, an education journalist writing for The Independent on "self-employed contracts" among Teflers in London, on (EL Gazette's web people warned us that the website's email was down at the time of writing, but assured us it would be back up soon.)

No comments: