Language centre staff strike over pay

Liz Ford Wednesday June 18 2003 The Guardian English teachers at a language centre in Spain have voted to step up their campaign for better pay with a series of strikes during its summer school next month.

Teachers at the British Council Young Learners Centre in Madrid voted at the weekend to strike for six days during the 20-day summer programme in protest at what they say have been nine years of below inflation pay offers. Staff have already held nine one-day strikes since March and regular half hour stoppages. The majority of the centre's teachers, which number more than 70, supports the action. As a result of the stoppages the centre's end of term exams have been cancelled. Paul McGinty, a TEFL teacher at the centre for 19 years, said staff were originally calling for a 7.8% pay increase - made up of 3.9% to match inflation for 2001 and 3.9% to claw back lost purchasing power - but have dropped the claim to 4.5%. The British Council has offered 3%, which, Mr McGinty claims, amounts to a 2.7% increase in real terms. He said the council has included length of service awards in the pay deal, something the centre's staff believe should not be part of annual salary discussions. "We have had nine out of 10 years of pay awards below inflation. It's happening all around Spain, and around the world," said Mr McGinty. "We have not signed a pay agreement since 2001. We have had meetings with the council but they have constantly said no [to demands], so we are taking industrial action." He added: "We hope the pressure we are applying will encourage the council to sit down and negotiate in good faith." In the past 10 years, said Mr McGinty, hourly rates of pay for staff at the centre with one year's service under their belts have risen from 2,874 ptas to the equivalent of 3,151 ptas, representing a 9.64% increase over the decade. In the same period, inflation has increased by approximately 40% and tuition fees at the centre have increased by around 70%. The situation is further compounded by a deal signed by staff in 1997 in which new teachers were offered more work at slightly higher rates of pay. Mr McGinty claims the deal resulted in teachers undertaking 20% more work, for only 5% extra pay. "They were effectively working for substantially less," he said. However, the director of the British Council in Spain, Chris Hickey, said all the council's other teaching centres around the country had accepted the 3% pay offer. He added: "The British Council is very disappointed by teachers in one centre in Spain who have chosen to strike as a means of pursuing a higher pay claim. "While we recognise that people have the right to strike, we do not feel it's fair in these circumstances as it is very damaging to all concerned - particularly the students." Mr McGinty said his centre had received support from other language schools. "We are one of the more organised centres. We belong to a Spanish trade union and are willing to take on issues other centres are not well enough organised to take." He added: "We are fighting to maintain standards of professionalism. We are in for a long dispute." Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited

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