Union takes multinational language school to tribunal in case challenging precarious employment

The TEFL Workers’ Union (a section of the IWW) has filed for a tribunal to support English language teachers who suffered financial loss as a result of Kaplan International’s use of rolling fixed-term contracts.

TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. Kaplan is a global operator with schools in 25 locations across the world. It is owned by the U.S. corporation Graham Holdings, former proprietors of the Washington Post, and currently valued at $2.8 billion (£2bn).

The English language teaching industry is known for precarious contracts, including zero-hours, fixed-term, lack of sick pay and paid preparation time.

A former Kaplan teacher explained:

“When I signed that contract, nobody told me that I was being fired to be rehired in a week or two. It was just presented to me as a formality. Anyone who has been working in the industry long enough is aware of stories about teachers who lost teaching hours for even questioning these practices. I have been tremendously encouraged to learn that as a result of the pressure that we are exerting, Kaplan has actually moved people still em- ployed there onto permanent contracts. Our goal in pursuing this is to ensure that Kaplan will not be able to backslide on these commitments once the present storm has blown over.”

IWW caseworker Aaron Smith stressed this case has the potential to set a precedent that could be used to challenge fixed-term contracts across the industry:

“For too long, the English language teaching industry has gotten away with offering less than the statutory minimum. We’ve already had success winning proper redundancy pay for workers in other schools. We’re here to hold Kaplan to account in the same way.”

Kaplan used rolling fixed-term contracts for hourly-paid teaching staff. The company accepted permanent employee status only for workers with four or more years of service. The union maintains this resulted in a loss of redundancy and furlough pay as payment was only calculated from the start of the most recent contract. The union maintains all Kaplan’s fixed-term contracts constitute “umbrella” or “overarching” agreements that do not break continuous service. The union maintains that workers with less than three years of service were underpaid redundancy.