'We are at breaking point' - teachers to occupy school premises after job losses
Teachers at a Dublin based English school will lock themselves inside the premises tonight after being told all their jobs have been lost.
Up to 28 staff at Grafton College in Portobello did not receive their wages on Friday and this morning were told the school is going into liquidation.
Teachers were handed a letter from the management director informing them that the college has ceased to trade with “immediate effect” due to insolvency.
“I wish to inform you that your pay for November was not paid and will not be paid,” it read.
Staff told Independent.ie that they’ve made numerous attempts to contact the owner of the school, but have not heard back from him.
They said they have been left with no alternative but to occupy the building from tonight.
“We’re going to occupy the building in an effort to get more attention for our cause and the entire industry,” said teacher Daragh McCarthy from Dublin.
“Many teachers, including myself, have been through similar situations in the past.
“We have to make some kind of stand because it’s just going to continue and become the norm. This industry isn’t being taken care of on any level – it’s completely unregulated.
“We don’t know exactly how long we’ll occupy the building for, but we have to do something– we’re at breaking point.”
Brian Merrill (36) from Arizona had to call off his own wedding because of the unexpected turn of events.
“My fiancée and I were meeting wedding planners last week and getting ready to get married in Portugal, but now we can’t.
“We were getting really excited for the year ahead and were supposed to fly to Krakow for the New Year, but that can’t happen either.
“We have to use all the money we have to pay our rent. The financial weight is now solely on my fiancée’s shoulders because I’ve been robbed of my pay for five weeks.”
Grafton College has around 500 international students. It is understood they will be accommodated in other institutions under a student protection fund which is organised by English language colleges operating in Ireland.
Priscilla Teles (29) from Brazil expressed her disappointment at this morning's announcement.
"I’m very shocked and saddened that the school is closed, but we’ve been assured that we’ll be transferred to another college," she said.
"We have to do a six month course and I’m in my fifth month so it’s very unfortunate timing. Without the English certificate my visa won’t be renewed and I won’t be able to work. There are so many students here and we all pay nearly €2,000 each so I just don’t know why the college has to close.
“We get along so well with the teachers who do an amazing job. I feel so sorry for them, it's just not fair."
The union representing some of the teachers at Grafton College appealed to the Department of Education to step in and "not to wash its hands of this" just weeks before Christmas.
Members and supporters of Unite’s English Language Teacher expressed support for the staff, demanding that Education and Skills Minister Joe McHugh visit the college and speak to the teachers.
Unite Regional Organiser Roy Hassey said this particular case reinforces the need for legislation to protect the interests of both teachers and students in the “highly-profitable” English language sector.
“It is not in the interests of teachers, students or the wider economy that rogue employers be allowed to continue operating in the English Language Teaching sector,” he said.
“Unite members and supporters will be protesting outside Grafton College this evening in solidarity with teachers who have been left without wages or employment in the run-up to Christmas.
“The Qualifications and Quality Assurance Bill will be debated in the Seanad on Wednesday, and I would appeal to all Senators to look at what is happening in Portobello and support amendments designed to ensure minimum employment standards for English Language Teachers,” he said.
Marketing English in Ireland (MEI), an association for private English schools, offered reassurance for affected students.
A statement read: "MEI member schools have arrangements in place for the protection of learners; in the event of the closure of a school which is an MEI member, other MEI members will automatically offer places to displaced students to ensure they can complete their studies for the duration of the course for which they have registered and paid.
“All impacted Grafton College students are already in Ireland and are registered and attending classes at Grafton College. Arrangements will be put in place by MEI to ensure all students are enabled to complete their studies.”
Attempts to contact management at the school were unsuccessful.
Students from the school have also set up a GoFundMe for the teachers: www.gofundme.com/graftoncollege