Government to explore safeguards for English language teachers

Move comes after Grafton College closure left about 20 staff without wages

Minister of State with responsibility for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, is exploring ways of protecting English language teachers’ employment rights Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

Minister of State with responsibility for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, is exploring ways of protecting English language teachers’ employment rights Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

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The Government is to explore ways of introducing legally-binding safeguards to protect the rights of teachers in the English language education sector, according to Minister for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor.

The move comes amid the controversy surrounding the closure of Grafton College English-language school which has left about 20 staff members without wages.

Ms Mitchell O’Connor is considering the potential of introducing registered employment agreements, which apply in other sectors of industry such as construction.

Speaking in the Seanad on Wednesday, she said the ongoing problems facing teachers at Grafton College Dublin have exposed weaknesses in safeguarding fair and transparent pay and conditions of employment for staff in this sector.

“I want an English language education sector that we have confidence in and one which provides a quality education to students coming to Ireland to learn English,” she said.

“Those working in it, are integral to the quality of that provision. None of us want to see English language teachers not being paid or not being allowed to the full suite of employment rights that are supported by the State.

“The situation that has emerged at Grafton College where teachers have been left without salaries, in a non-payment limbo, is completely unacceptable.”

Ms Mitchell O’Connor is currently taking the Qualifications and Quality Assurance [Amendment] Bill through second stage in the Seanad.

The bill is intended to establish a more robust regulatory framework for education standards.

It aims to strengthen the role of Quality and Qualifications Ireland as a regulator of quality assurance across further and higher education.

Agreements

Ms Mitchell O’Connor said there are opportunities for a registered employment agreements to be developed and registered with the Labour Court in order to regulate the pay and conditions of employment of workers specified in the agreement.

“These are collective agreement between a trade union or unions of workers and employer or employers on the pay or conditions of specified workers, which is registered with the Labour Court. The effect of registration with the Labour Court makes the agreement binding on the subscribing parties.”

These agreements operate at the organisational level, where an employer and employees can reach agreement on terms and conditions and register it with the Labour Court.

It is then legally binding and enforceable within that employment.

While it does not have sector-wide force, if enough employers in a given sector register the they can begin to have de facto effect on the sector.

The Minister added that she will appoint an experienced mediator to meet with bodies representing employers and employees in the English language education sector to explore the potential for such an agreement.

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