Why it's time English teachers in Spain stood up for their rights

The Local Spain
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Why it's time English teachers in Spain stood up for their rights
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Language teachers in Madrid have faced an unprecedented attack on their working rights in recent years, and the UK’s looming departure from the EU could potentially make matters a lot worse.


Now, a group of activists has organised an information session to help teachers organise and defend their rights in the workplace.

As one of the main occupations for expats living and working in Madrid, language teaching is a respected profession and can offer a foot in the door to a new life here for those who aren’t sure of their next steps. But it rarely lives up to expectations.

A huge industry has sprung up to meet the demand for language classes as Spain, the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy, strives to attract foreign investment and reinvigorate a job market still bearing the scars of the 2008 economic crash. With countless academies crowding out the marketplace, competition forces down prices – and workers’ rights with them.


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Bad hours and worse pay

With little experience of the world of work, many young language teachers see their rights undermined at the hands of unscrupulous academies. While some are fortunate enough to be paid over the Easter and Christmas holidays, many are temporarily sacked by their academies over summer, only to be rehired when the academic year gets underway again in autumn.

Moreover, teachers are often asked to travel long distances to classes, making a working week of 25 hours feel more like 40 – and this extra time is rarely reflected in their salaries. An 18-hour contract is becoming increasingly common, for example, but the classes that teachers are actually assigned can be so spread out that they end up earning less than a living wage. On top of that, they are left with no time to top up their paid hours at a second academy.

The fact that work visas are hard to come by for non-EU nationals makes the auxiliares programme an attractive choice for many English speakers. It provides teachers with a minimal salary and a student visa – great for those simply looking to spend a year or two brushing up their Spanish. But the pay and conditions are far from sufficient for anyone hoping to stay in Spain for the longer term, especially given that teaching assistants often go above and beyond what is required of them.

Some English teachers are also pressured to become a “fake freelancer” (that is, one who works for only one “customer”). This abusive practice is not only costly for the worker in terms of social security contributions but provides zero job stability and no holiday pay. It is also, of course, illegal.

Exploitative academies

Photo: igorvetushko/Depositphotos

Sadly, all of the above may seem normal to many language teachers. Many perhaps think this is just how things work in Spain. But the reality is that all of the examples listed above are unethical and in some cases illegal – and that is exactly what a group of activists are now trying to fix.

The team from Labour International Madrid and the Spanish trade union Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) are holding an event on October 18th at 12:00 pm to inform teachers of their rights and to highlight the importance of organising in the workplace.

Among other things, the event will explain the rights enshrined in the relevant convenio (collective bargaining agreement), which covers everything from the rules governing overtime to teachers’ entitlement to time off for moving house.

Paul McGinty, a CCOO representative in Madrid for over 30 years, says: “It’s fair to say our sector is difficult – with lots of cowboys, fraudsters and bullies running the show. Anti-trade union behaviour is rife even in the most allegedly respected institutions.”

By simply making language teachers aware of the rules – which academies have been known to flout on a widespread basis – the activists hope to improve the language-teaching industry for everyone.

“The need to organise to defend workers’ rights has never been more apposite and necessary,” says McGinty.

Employment rights after Brexit

With the UK set to leave the European Union on October 31st, British nationals in Spain face an uncertain future. Although the Spanish government has introduced legislation designed to protect their rights in the event of a no-deal exit from the bloc, the arrangements are conditional upon the granting of reciprocal guarantees for Spanish people living in the UK.

With this in mind, the programme will also include a talk by Michael Harris of EuroCitizens, a group that campaigns to defend the rights of UK nationals in Spain and Spanish citizens in the UK.

Whether they work at an academy or as a language assistant, teachers in Madrid are encouraged to join LI Madrid and CCOO for the first in a series of information sessions at 12:00 pm on October 18th where coffee and cakes will be served.

The event will be held at CCOO’s Madrid headquarters at Calle de Lope de Vega 38.

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READ ALSO: Spain's public holidays in 2020: Official list 


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