In brief, what we have to distinguish is between the working hour and the teaching hour. It is perfectly legal, in most of the EU including the UK, to pay only for teaching hours and require to teachers to do other working hours, and this happens in both the state and private sectors. There are two things to remember, however.
a) Since September 2006 it has been illegal to include an amount for holiday pay in ANY hourly wage. This applies everywhere in the EU. The amount for holiday pay must be paid separately usually when you go on holiday. In the UK this works out at approximately 8 per cent of whatever you have earned so far this tax year.
b) Teaching hours are not the basis for calculating the working week or ensuring that the total remuneration meets minimum wage legislation - ALL working hours must be included for that. Non teaching hours don’t have to be paid separately but they do count towards minimum wage.
What is a working hour? Put simply, it is any hour when you are at your employers disposal. It specifically includes any meetings or training sessions. Any socialising you have to do for your employer – like your evening stints. Also any travelling time you have to undertake for your employer – except the normal journey to and from work. Any break of less than 20 minutes – like the break between classes – are also included. A break of twenty minutes or more, when you have time to nip out for a quick coffee and a fag, would be calculated as a rest period, which does not count as working time in the UK, though it does in some other EU countries. Unless you are required to do preparation and marking at your employer's premises, this does not necessarily count as a working hour, but does need to be paid at at least minimum wage– I will explain that a little later on.
If a working hour doesn’t have to be paid, why is it important?
First, all the working hours you do added together must not exceed 48 on average. Preparation and marking done at home are not included in this. Everywhere in the EU except the UK it is illegal to make anybody work more than 48 hours a week. In the UK, employers can ask employees to sign a waiver; however, it is illegal to put any employee under pressure to do so.
Secondly, all the working hours count towards minimum wage, as does preparation and marking time, even if done at home (see below) Take the total amount of money you get for teaching hours, divide it by your total number of working hours plus preparation time and if it is under the hourly rate for minimum wage, then your employer is breaking the law.
Preparation and marking time. Prep and marking, which is normally included in the teaching hour payment, should be a contractual obligation, specifically mentioned in your contract. If it isn’t, you are perfectly within your rights not to do it. If it is, the expected amount of time should be specified – but all too often schools do not include this. If there is nothing in the contract, the trick is to look at the norm for the job, which means looking at the state sector. In most of the EU, the state sector contracts specify 20 minutes for preparation and marking, for every hour taught (yes I know that is not necessarily enough, but that’s the way it is). So unless your contract specifies otherwise use 20 minutes preparation for every hour taught as the standard for calculation. So, every teaching hour is in fact an hour (or 50 minutes plus 10 minutes break which has to be paid anyway) plus 20 minutes preparation time (80 minutes). Method schools such as Berlitz or Callan, may get away with not taking this into account for wages, if they specify in their contract that they do not expect any preparation or marking, but every other school will basically have to take it into account.
Let’s look at an example. As of October 1 2007 the UK minimum wage has been £5.52. Let’s take a teacher doing a 50 minute teaching hour with a ten minute break between classes. They have to be paid minimum wage for the entire hour + a third for the 20 minutes preparation time. The minimum wage they can legally be paid for their teaching hours is thus £7.36. It is thus perfectly legal for a school to pay a teacher say £7.50 a teaching hour, as some of the non-accredited schools do. However they aren’t entitled to anything more from the teacher than to turn up and teach - – £7.50 is 2.5 per cent above minimum wage – which means they can only require a teacher to do another one and half minutes work for every hour they teach before they are breaking the minimum wage act!
Finally what to do if you think your employer is breaking the law. Even if you think they are doing this by mistake, and many of them are, join a Union BEFORE you raise the subject with them. If the whole thing turns nasty and you end up losing your job, the Union won’t protect you if you weren’t a member before the dispute broke out.
To be honest, my advice to every teacher working in the private sector, is to join a Union – the UCU is the best one in the UK. This is not because I think most employers are mean, horrid and out to get the teacher – many year round language schools in the UK are barely breaking even. It is just because ever since the British Council accreditation scheme stopped even looking at terms and conditions as part of accreditation, a Union is the only possible protection a teacher has. There are a small number of unscrupulous employers who basically work on the principle that they know they are breaking the law, but they also know the teachers haven’t got the money to sue them. Sad but true.
Please let me know if there is anything you don’t understand. I’ve spent so long studying this now that what seems obvious to me can seem impenetrable to anyone else.
So, there you have it, and from a reliable and concerned source. If you feel that your employer is turning you over, join a union such as the UCU first, as you can't expect either the British Council of English UK to waste their breath on a mere Tefler such as you.
Next up is the British Council's response to the same letter. But don't hold your breath, eh?!