There are many English teachers in Barcelona who enjoy a high degree of job satisfaction and spend years at the same school, or working with the same private students. And most schools that teach English value their teachers and treat them well, offering stable conditions and reasonable remuneration.
However, life being what it is, the occasional teacher may not enjoy these working conditions. They may feel underpaid or worry about a lack of job security. In short, they may feel disempowered.
This perception of disempowerment, however, is only that. A perception. The fact is that language instructors do have a lot of power. The problem is that most of them don’t know about it. One place they can find it is the Federació d’Ensenyament Comissions Obreres (CCOO). It exists to provide support—even in English, if necessary. They offer advice, inform teachers of their rights, carry out negotiations between workers and employers and provide skilled negotiators for legally binding convenis (legally binding agreements) between workers and industry associations.
“We’ve also got a full legal service, the gabinet [lawyers’ office], which will support you and represent you through the courts, give you legal advice, etc.,” said Steve Rumbol, the Coordinator of the Private Language Teaching Sector at CCOO. “Also we support teachers in organising elections and getting union reps in their companies, which is the basic foundation of what we need to do to improve their situation.”
A recent victory for Ensenyament was realised in February when they managed to win €2.7 million for 400 former employees of Opening School of English. The case took nearly five years to settle.
Of course, one union does not fit all. But in many cases it can help people understand their options. Deepak, who asked that his real name not be used, has worked for an in-company language school for the past year and his employer now wants him to become an autonòm (self-employed). “The union has been a real source of useful advice in my situation. Right now I’m weighing my options. Through Ensenyament, you know where you stand and what kind of bargaining position you’re in.”
Linda, as she asked to be called, has lived and taught in Barcelona for 23 years. Even though she feels fortunate to be in a good situation, in a good school, she said she still feels passionately that it’s her duty to participate in the union. She sees a global effect when uninformed teachers accept substandard conditions. “It has ramifications beyond just one person’s individual situation.”
When trade agreement negotiations begin this winter, one of the Federació’s prime objectives will be to reduce the number of contact hours for language teachers. “[The current one] is such a broad conveni,” said Linda. “It was not written with language teachers in mind. Thirty contact hours are what it indicates, which makes sense if you’re teaching something like driver’s education, because you’re spending very little time planning. But for something like teaching English it would be exhausting. If you have stamina, you can do it for a long time. But if you kept it up, eventually you’d sacrifice your marriage or your family.”
Federació d’Ensenyament, CCOO
Via Laietana 16, 4ª Planta
Tel. 93 481 28 42
Union membership is €10 a month; discounts for part-time and temporary workers.