[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, November 2020.]
"Precarious:" a word that accurately describes so many jobs under modern hyper-capitalism.
In their Barcelona branch (which operated for 40 years) at least 120 teachers and support staff have lost their positions.
Speaking to union representative Duncan Hawthorne, who has worked for IH Barcelona for the last 23 years, he told me he’d expected to stay with them for the rest of his working life. His opinion is that it was a great school but badly run over the years, particularly due to power struggles at the top of the company.
“There’s a lot of anger towards the management and that’s who the staff are trying to hold responsible for the end of the business," he said. "Covid 19 wasn’t a major cause of us closing. It was just the last straw."
Duncan believes that employees feel abandoned by the owners of the company and their recent protests outside their former office on Trafalgar Street in Barcelona are evidence of that. He explained that one of the worst problems for employees is that they are currently in a kind of financial limbo, neither being paid by IH nor able to claim unemployment benefits (which for hundreds of thousands of others, are currently taking up to 3 months to be paid by the Spanish government.)
Duncan also told me that the company is in the hands of a legal administrator but is not yet technically bankrupt.
Apart from this, it needs to be acknowledged that IH has stated online:
“The closure of schools is due to a sustained deterioration in recent years of International House’s main lines of business, resulting from fundamental changes in the world of language teaching. This downward trajectory worsened, without a doubt, with the crisis caused by COVID-19.”
As someone who has also worked in and for a number of different language “academy” schools for many years, to me, this disaster represents just one of many that are striking this sector.
As long as there are native English speakers in Barcelona and elsewhere in Europe giving one-to-one “classes” for a glass of wine or online for under 10 euros an hour — both common enough — there will be continuing exploitation of professional, qualified and experienced teachers.
In reality, across our continent there is no law; there is only power. Or at least the power to enforce it. The “convenio” standard that legally exists has been widely abused for years and the pandemic has meant a genuine drop in pay rates. I’ve seen this for myself in trying to find teaching work since August.
So, what do we have in the industry? We have closed houses and open slather.
Great article. Unfortunately we are witnessing the uberisation of the profession and it’ll likely get a lot worse than get better. I think the only real way to make a living in this industry at this stage is to go freelance and try to find direct work with companies, there still seems to be a viable path there in terms of charging higher rates. But of course, with covid, even that isn’t working quite as well as it did before.
Brett Hetherington said…
Thanks for your comment. I do agree with you. I think the only difference is that I’m more pessimistic about the future. The idea of going back to a kind of normal is wishful thinking, I suspect. I think it’s a lot worse than we even know yet. A 40% rise in foodbank demand in such a short time? That’s serious. It indicates major job losses.