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Clubclass Issues Right Of Reply Following Teachers’ Protest On Working Conditions

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An English language school owner has accused the Union of Professional Educators of embarking on a mission to discredit the school following a fall out of staff working conditions, going as far as calling them liars.

Clubclass owner Joe Aqulinia and UPE have been locked in a heated dispute after a discussion to improve teachers’ working conditions failed, resulting in a protest being organised by the union outside the school’s premises.

UPE President Graham Sansone spoke up about the conditions the workers have found themselves in, claiming that some are earning as little as €260 per month and have been forced to sleep in their cars and rely on food banks as a result of their zero-hour.

Aquilina has since disputed the allegations and claimed “the UPE has embarked on a mission to discredit Clubclass” while also issuing an apology for a Facebook post in which he called protestors “losers”.

A right of reply can be read in full below:

Being angry is never a good enough reason to justify calling others “a bunch of losers”. That much I should have known and I deeply regret that momentary lapse of reason.

If I learned nothing, I learned that my anger threshold is of 20 minutes because that’s how long it took me to realise I was wrong before I took down that post from my FB profile. It was a foolish reaction which I deeply regret.

Nonetheless, let’s call a spade, a spade. Yes, I was hurt because Clubclass is a family business and when someone attacks family, one naturally tends to take that attack very personally. Anyone would.

Watching some of our own teachers protesting in front of our premises after having kept them on our books throughout the past difficult months, hurts. But what hurt the most was knowing that these teachers are being used by someone else to forward his own personal agenda at our expense.

A case in point was a placard held by a teacher during yesterday’s protest which stated “Stop Zero Hours Contracts”. This placard was being held by one of Clubclass’ core teachers who is not on a zero-hours contract; in fact, she is on a 15-hour contract and has been working for our organisation since October 1st 2014 and worked an average of 25 hours per week in the last 52 weeks.

Clearly, the UPE has embarked on a mission to discredit Clubclass at all costs, even to the extent of outright lying. So now let’s put the record straight

UPE claims that “discussions for improvements to the teachers’ work conditions failed”. These discussions did not fail at all because they never started in the first place. And the reason is simple: because UPE’s request to meet came at the wrong timing for the school. If UPE’s priority is truly the wellbeing of teachers, the union will appreciate that right now, the school’s priority is the long-term sustainability of the operation and employment of the company’s 100+ teachers and employees. 

UPE claimed it acquired most union membership among Clubclass’ teachers and that when it reached out to the school’s owner to discuss issues pertaining to the teachers’ contracts, he repeatedly ignored their correspondence. This is incorrect on two counts. Besides the fact that the majority of teachers still need to be verified and confirmed through the DIER, Clubclass always made it clear that it is not its intention to deny UPE any recognition and way before the strike was called, had suggested the 20th July as a date for the first meeting. This date was only refused by the UPE.

UPE claimed that “the vast majority of teachers are on zero-hour contracts, which means they don’t get paid if there’s no work for them to do and they’re not entitled to sick leave or vacation leave.” This is also incorrect. Half of the teachers employed by Clubclass are not on a zero-hour contract and those who are, have been paid for and given all their sick and vacation leave entitlements. We would be happy to provide any party concerned with factual proof.

The UPE also claims that “three issues in the guidelines stood out as being of high risk to these teachers’ well-being: spacing, ventilation and the use of masks and/or visors.” In the case of Clubclass all OHSA and ELT Council guidelines are adhered to, so if this is the case with other schools, then the UPE is irresponsibly and unfairly attributing these failings to Clubclass.

UPE said that “Some (teachers) are earning €260, €230 a month… they cannot live on these salaries. Some cannot keep up with their mortgages, one teacher has been evicted and others are set to be evicted.” Clubclass is not aware that any of the company’s teachers are in this situation and if there are such situations, we would be very happy to assist them until the situation improves in the same way we have done with other non-company employees such as when the company offered 100+ students free accommodation for 5 weeks and free Online lessons for 4 weeks at the peak of the pandemic and a 27-bed house to hospital workers for free for two and a half months.

UPE’s Graham Sansone claimed that “EFL bookings for the summer have picked up significantly and it is now predicted that Malta will hit 40% of last year’s student numbers, despite the pandemic.” This claim by the UPE is not only incorrect but also irresponsible. The flight capacity is nowhere near 40% of what it was in 2019, so how can there be so many students arriving?

Finally, UPE stated that “the pandemic made teachers realise how vulnerable they truly are.” We urge the UPE to come out from its glasshouse and come to terms with the fact that this pandemic made EVERYONE realise how vulnerable we are. For Clubclass, it would have been more cost-effective to lay-off the teachers and engage them again once the business recovered. But we made no teachers redundant, in fact we retained everyone during the pandemic, whether they had work or not.

UPE called a protest claiming that it wanted to campaign for better working conditions. In reality, the protest was called for union recognition, something which Clubclass has no problem with and was willing to discuss on the 20th of July, a date only refused by the UPE. 

If teachers’ conditions were so dire, the team of core teachers at Clubclass would not have been with the company for so many years. There are teachers who have been at Clubclass for over five, six, eight and even 12 years. In January of this year, Clubclass distributed a total of €4,000 to the teaching staff as part of their annual loyalty performance bonus scheme.

It is very unfortunate that UPE is using a strike against Clubclass as a platform to talk mostly about its agenda. It was very clear that none of the teachers present had any comments to make at the end of the meeting. Besides, all alleged Clubclass teacher members of the union were not even present at the strike. If UPE has an issue with the industry at large the union should have used an alternative forum for these to be discussed.

What do you make of all of this? Let us know in the comments below

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