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Supporters of English language teachers protest at school after sudden closure

Staff said they have been left in the dark about the money they are owed.

Grafton College teachers protesting this evening.
Grafton College teachers protesting this evening.
Image: UNITE union Ireland/Twitter

Updated Dec 3rd 2018, 9:01 PM

STAFF AT AN English language college in Dublin have held a protest outside the school this evening after they were told that it is going into liquidation. 

The staff at Grafton College did not receive their wages on Friday and this morning they were told the school will close and they no longer have jobs. 

Trade union Unite, which represents some of the teachers at the college, expressed its support for the protestors this evening and said that they were demanding that Education and Skills Minister Joe McHugh visit the college and speak to them. 

Robert Dunlop and his wife Gisela Aranda spoke to reporters after a meeting with a director of the school this morning. They got married on Saturday and Gisela is eight months pregnant. 

Dunlop said he is due two months’ wages as he was waiting until after the wedding to cash last month’s cheque so they would be covered over Christmas. 

“We haven’t even thought about it because we just got married on the weekend and the reality of this is just becoming apparent now this morning. It’s horrendous, I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

0967 Grafton College_90559918 Robert and Gisela Dunlop outside Grafton College language school

His colleague Brian Marrow, who has been a teacher at the school for almost a year and a half, said staff had “no idea” the school was in financial difficulty. 

“It was business as usual until we found out that it wasn’t,” he said.

“We’re renting and we’re stuck for our rent now, my fiancée and I. We were planning for a wedding and we can’t now, that’s on hold indefinitely.”

Staff said they had made numerous attempts over the weekend to contact the owner of the school, but no one has heard back from him.

Laura Breen, who was the college’s learning and teacher co-ordinator, said even management in the school did not know this was going to happen. 

grafton2 Laura Breen held a middle management position at the school. Source: Michelle Hennessy/TheJournal.ie

“It’s devastating. Luckily I have family to support me, but we had a teachers’ meeting and staff meeting here yesterday in the school and some teachers could be one pay cheque away from literally being homeless. That’s the severity and that’s the reality of the situation,” she said.

“At the moment this would be considered low season so it’s not a great time to be looking for a job and also now we’re all in competition with each other, so that’s not a great feeling either.”

‘In the dark’

Trade union Unite met with staff from the Grafton College in Portobello earlier today after what it described as a “snap closure” of the college. 

He said staff this morning were told “they will not be paid and there’s no money in the bank”. 

“We’re protesting to put pressure on the owner of the company and on the school to pay what’s owed because we believe the money is there,” he said.

Most of the workers were on fixed term contracts and Hassey said staff in this sector are usually doing precarious work. 

“It’s fixed term or zero hour contracts, some bogus self-employment. Many of them work in several different schools to get by and at most they’d get 30 hours of work. And most only get paid for contracted hours so their preparation and marking time isn’t covered. We did a survey last year and found on average teachers in this sector work eight hours a week unpaid.”

The Department of Education has a new bill before the Oireachtas to put in place stricter regulation of this sector, but the protections in the bill relate to students, not teachers. 

Unite is calling for two amendments to the bill to cover employment standards and a protection fund for staff – the bill currently has a provision for a protection fund but it is only for students. 

“The Qualifications and Quality Assurance Bill will be debated in the Seanad on Wednesday, and I would appeal to all Senators to look at what is happening in Portobello and support amendments designed to ensure minimum employment standards for English Language Teachers. This legislation, with the amendments, needs to be fast-tracked in the interests of the sector as a whole,” Hassey said.

Protection for students

Marketing English in Ireland (MEI), a representative association for private English language schools, said it has been informed of “trading difficulties” for the college.

MEI member schools have arrangements in place for the protection of learners; in the event of the closure of a school which is an MEI member, other MEI members will automatically offer places to displaced students to ensure they can complete their studies for the duration of the course for which they have registered and paid.

“All impacted Grafton College students are already in Ireland and are registered and attending classes at Grafton College. Arrangements will be put in place by MEI to ensure all students are enabled to complete their studies.”

Attempts to contact management at the school this morning were unsuccessful.

With reporting by Adam Daly 

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