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Teachers at DCU English school say offer of 50c pay increase is 'a slap in the face'

Staff at the school have raised a number of issues about pay and conditions.

One of the classrooms
One of the classrooms
Image: Provided by teachers

TEACHERS AT DUBLIN City University’s English language school have said an offer to increase their pay by 50 cents an hour is “humiliating” and “insulting”.

Teachers at the school are looking to increase their pay from €24.60 to €35 per hour, close to what they were paid before the recession. 

The €35 figure is based on an analysis of the rates of pay received by language instructors in other universities, Post-Leaving Certificate colleges and Education and Training Boards. 

However, it’s understood that DCU Language Services (DCULS) has rejected this claim and instead offered a 50 cent per hour increase.

DCULS operates as an independent subsidiary of DCU. Its parent company is DCU Commercial – which is owned by the university and also includes catering company Trispace and accommodation company Campus Property. 

The company has a core staff of about 15 but the overall number fluctuates throughout the year, peaking in the summer months when over 60 classes take place. Staff members work about four hours a day but have said they regularly work unpaid extra hours.

DCULS works with over 80 partner universities and teaches more than 7,500 adults and students every year. It teaches students from a number of countries including Korea and Japan, as well as teachers who wish to upskill – dozens of Spanish teachers attended classes over the summer, for example. 

Staff members say the rejection of their pay claim, at a time when DCULS is making a profit, is “a slap in the face”. They have also claimed that the company has ignored their calls for greater investment in facilities and resources.

“The teachers are really disappointed after having worked so hard over the busiest and most pressurised peak summertime in a decade. It seems that the more profitable the company is becoming, the less they invest in their staff and students,” one teacher said.

They also claimed that the company has “ignored repeated calls from teaching staff that conditions for them be improved and that students’ needs to be more fully considered”.

DCULS has an annual turnover of close to €9 million, a gross profit of €2.4 million and an operating profit of €743,000, according to its most recent accounts. 

dcu ls profit and loss 2018 Source: DCULS accounts

“Given the ongoing financial success of the company, especially during the most recent years, it was felt that teaching staff were especially entitled to a pay raise in recognition of the fact that it is their extra commitment to working many unpaid hours which has produced the company’s success,” one teacher stated.

In their pay claim, they noted that DCULS staff members were paid about €30 per hour prior to the recession.

“So in effect, the staff are looking for at least the restoration of pay to a previous level, while account would also need to be taken of the rising cost of living and inflation during this time period,” one teacher said.

The pay claim said the fact that many teachers at the school regularly do several hours of unpaid work every week “offered strong justification for a pay raise”.

Staff at the school, the majority of whom are represented by Siptu, received a pay increase of 60 cents per hour around 18 months ago.

When asked about the pay and conditions claim, a spokesperson for DCULS said the company is “currently engaged in talks with Siptu on behalf of its members regarding pay and terms and conditions of employment”.

“No further comment will be made as these negotiations are ongoing,” they added. 

High risk of burnout 

Teachers at the school also want to be recognised as full-time, rather than part-time staff to “reflect the reality of hours worked”, saying they work the same hours as secondary schools teachers and college lecturers, but are classified differently.

As part of their claim, teachers noted that they don’t receive paid annual level. Holiday pay is currently calculated at 8% of hours worked, paid on a monthly basis. 

Teachers said the lack of paid leave results in many staff members not taking adequate time off, “leaving them at high risk of burnout and stress-related illnesses”.

Employees claim that several members of core staff have left the company in recent years, saying many cited poor pay and conditions as the reason. 

Teachers have also called on DCULS to provide a consistent training and development programme for staff. Employees claim that such training is currently run on an ad-hoc basis and delivered by themselves to their colleagues. 

A government report published in June found that teachers working in commercial English language schools are poorly paid and often work on precarious contracts in difficult conditions.

Patrick King, an independent mediator, was tasked with examining the sector by Minister of State Mary Mitchell O’Connor. The report recommended the introduction of minimum employment standards to protect teachers.

Staff at DCULS, a university school, were not interviewed as part of the report.

Impact on students

Teachers have said a lack of investment by the company is also having a negative impact on students. 

“I’m conscious that our rights are linked with the students’ rights and the lack of investment in their educational needs is as serious as our lack of employment conditions,” one staff member told us. 

The teachers said students who attend DCULS expect a university-level standard of services but often don’t receive this.

“We’re constantly moving between classrooms – from a classroom that has no windows to a classroom that has broken chairs,” another teacher told us. They said some of the classrooms provided are fine but that teachers regularly have to work in what they view as unacceptable conditions.

CAG 110, upperstairs Henry Grattan Ext (no window or fresh air) One of the classrooms Source: Provided by teachers

When asked about specific claims teachers made about pay and conditions, DCULS said it would not comment while negotiations are ongoing. 

Karl Byrne, the teacher’s Siptu representative, said a “comprehensive claim” has been submitted on behalf of members, and talks are ongoing. 

He said any deal will need to be voted on, stating: “Ultimately the members will decide.” Byrne said if a deal is not reached, the claim will proceed to the Labour Court. 

“We’re in the middle of the industrial relations process, we have the right to go to the Workplace Relations Commission and Labour Court if it’s not sorted.”

He added that he hopes there will be a positive outcome “as soon as possible”. 

Teachers have said they don’t expect the issue to be resolved without the intervention of the Labour Court. 

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Órla Ryan

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