More than 20 teachers, many with children, fear their jobs are gone, just weeks before Christmas after their monthly salaries were not paid over the weekend.
Emergency plans are being drawn up to send up to 500 foreign students who were being taught English at Grafton College in Portobello, Dublin, to other private language schools in the city as attempts to contact its London-based owner failed.
Roy Hassey, union organiser with Unite, which represents most of the 23 teachers affected, is meeting them on Monday morning.
“Nobody saw this coming,” he said. “I started getting phone calls and emails from teachers early on Saturday morning to say they hadn’t been paid.
He said it appeared that the school had shut. “Teachers have tried to contact the owners and senior management, and their phone calls and emails are not being responded to. That’s as much as we know at the moment.”
Mr Hassey said the teachers were fearful for their futures and how they would financially cope over the coming weeks.
“It is three or four weeks before Christmas, and they are effectively now out of a job,” he said. “They have no idea what is going to happen, no idea if the wages they are owed will be paid. A lot of these teachers have children – it is not good. It is really worrying.”
It is understood the lease on the building occupied by Grafton College was coming to an end in the new year, and there were plans for it to relocate. However, there was no indications of any financial difficulties or imminent closure.
There is around two weeks left of the term before the Christmas break.
David O’Grady, chief executive of Marketing English in Ireland, which represents private English language schools including Grafton College, said he was “completely shocked” by the development.
“I’m really quite in the dark,” he said.
“In the meantime, we are putting in place a plan for students, if the school isn’t operational, that they will be transferred to other of our member schools.”
Mr O’Grady said he had been working all weekend on a contingency plan, and had been in regular contact with the school manager, who said he had also been unable to get in touch with the London-based owner.
“I thought it might have been a glitch or a problem with computers, but because there was no reply from the owner, it all sounds a bit strange,” he said.
The manager was preparing to physically open the college on Monday for students but it is not clear if teachers are prepared to continue working without being paid, said Mr O’Grady.
Union organiser Mr Hassey has made representations to Minister for Education Joe McHugh and the Oireachtas education committee urging more stringent regulation of the private English language sector.
“This sector has been blighted over the last five or 10 years with this sort of situation, with schools closing down overnight, students left without anywhere to go, teachers left out of pocket,” he said.
The industry revolving around teaching English to international students is worth an estimated €762 million to the Irish economy.
The Qualifications and Quality Assurance Bill, legislation drawn up to deal with its regulation, is currently before the Oireachtas.
Mr Hassey has called on Mr McHugh to fast-track the legislation with suggested amendments to tighten up teacher protection.