Joined: 17 Apr 2008
|Posted: Thu Nov 06, 2008 6:29 am Post subject: Berlitz in the Shit...
|This month's edition of the EL Gazette contains no less than TWO stories about the deplorable ethics and behaviour of Berlitz (well, that's a surprise!). One concerns the inadequate supervision of children, while the other is about breaching minimum pay guidelines. Well done ELG for highlighting these important issues!
1. Berlitz in child supervision row
CHILDREN AS young as six may have been left without adequate night supervision at an accredited summer school in the UK, if statements made to the Gazette by Berlitz Brighton management are correct, reports Melanie Butler. The assertions were made in response to minimum wage claims made by summer school staff working at the centre based at West Hill School, Sussex. Staff have also raised concerns that they were not checked with the Criminal Records Bureau – which keeps the UK’s sex offenders register – a legal requirement for educational establishments but not language schools (see article page 4).
Two of the staff have made minimum wage claims against the school to the Inland Revenue including hours for time on call at night. Under European law time spent on call at the work premises count as working time even if the employee is sleeping.
Residential staff claim they were required to be on the premises every night, including their day off, between 11pm and 7:30am, sleeping in or near the dormitory wings and expected to be on call.
Staff contracts obtained by the Gazette state that staff will be required to ‘take part in the supervision rota (getting up, meal, break time, between activities, going to bed, and overnight) and need to be on site’.
The principal of Berlitz Brighton, Mr Jonathan Richards, denies the staff were required to be on call at night, pointing out that no names were entered on the weekly schedule for overnight supervision. ‘As staff weren’t shown rostered overnight it is difficult to argue that they were working,’ he said.
Asked who was on duty at night Mr Richards replied: ‘We had two of the school’s matrons available 24 hours a day for emergencies; group leaders of which there were four or five individuals looked after the students overnight. In addition the centre director dealt with any overnight issue.’
One of the matrons, contacted by the Gazette, said that neither matron was on site overnight nor were they on call, although staff had their phone numbers for emergencies. The responsibility for the welfare of the children lay with Berlitz, she said, and overnight supervision was done by ‘pastoral care staff’ who reported to the centre director. According to the Gazette’s information there were no separate pastoral care staff, although contracts for teaching and activity staff include pastoral duty.
The matron also said that the responsibility for overnight care lay with Berlitz, not with the group leaders, who were Japanese and Spanish. She added that some of the children did not come with group leaders.
If the Berlitz management is correct in its assertion that no residential staff other than the centre director were on call that would mean that children who did not come with a group leader would have been in the sole care of the director, who would have been on night call for 66.5 hours a week. The Gazette understands that these children included two Russian six-year-olds.
2. ‘Disgruntled’ staff claim Berlitz broke EU rules
THE DIRECTOR of studies of an accredited UK summer school earned less than one pence an hour over minimum wage, according to the National Minimum Wage Unit. The calculations submitted by the DoS included contractual hours on call overnight, which counts as working time under European Union law. The employer, Berlitz Brighton, denies that staff were on call overnight (see article page one).
Jonathan Richard, principal of Berlitz Brighton, said, ‘These claims appear to be the result of disgruntled employees who were unfortunately made redundant when regrettably we were forced to close our summer school a week early.’
Summer staff based at West Hill Park school in Sussex contacted the Gazette following the announcement that they would be made redundant but that their salaries would not be paid until the end of the fixed-term contract period. All but one of the staff were normally resident outside the UK and claim they could not afford to change their return flights.
Staff also raised concerns about the education and welfare of the children on the course to both the Gazette and to a British Council inspector who visited the school. Issues raised included inadequate materials, lack of teacher qualifications and potential problems caused by teenagers joining a course for 8- to 12-year-olds.
The British Council confirmed that Berlitz Brighton remains an accredited school. As accreditation reports are confidential the Gazette does not know what, if any, recommendations were made by the inspector.
Staff also highlighted the fact that the perimeter of the school was not secure and that they themselves had not been checked with the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) which holds the UK’s sex offender’s register.
Berlitz Brighton responded that language schools are not legally required to carry out CRB checks. The British Council confirmed this, pointing out that CRB checks are of limited value in vetting staff resident outside the country. They added: ‘Unless a language school which provides residential accommodation falls within the definition of an independent school there are no national minimum standards for accommodation against which the accommodation it provides must be inspected .’
Commenting on the general legal position a child welfare lawyer said, ‘Private language schools are subject to a general duty of care... If there was a negligence claim against a language school and the school was found not to have followed general standards that are required of other institutions involved in caring for children (including CRB checking), I would be surprised if a court were not concerned.’
There is growing industry concern that lack of regulation could be putting foreign children at risk. As well as a lack of CRB checks, long hours may mean teachers are too tired to provide proper supervision. David Wilkins, principal of United International College (UIC), told the Gazette, ‘There is an army of vulnerable children out there. It is an accident waiting to happen.’ All staff at UIC summer schools are CRB checked and no teacher is asked to sign a waiver allowing them to work more than the 48 hours set out in the European Working Time Directive.
Berlitz contracts and schedules obtained by the Gazette show possible infringements of the directive – staff were only allowed out between 8am and 11pm on their day off rather than receiving the full 35 hours weekly rest. Moreover, if staff were on call at nights, which Berlitz deny, they would have forfeited daily rest periods or even be classified as night workers.
Berlitz Brighton argued that the normal right to rest does not apply when ‘the job is (in) a residential institution that requires round the clock staffing’.
An expert employment lawyer commented that whether the exception for residential institutions applies depends ‘not so much on the nature of the institution that employs them but on the nature of the work the employees do. It is possible that the exception would apply to some employees but not others.’
Berlitz also argued, ‘The key thing is that staff are given equivalent compensatory rest.’
The Ministry of Business, Enterprise and Regulator Reform concurred that rest patterns could be changed, though rest – including compensatory rest – must total a minimum of 90 hours per week. They also said, ‘The European Court of Justice has ruled that compensatory rest should be provided immediately after the end of the working period.’
Berlitz Brighton responded, ‘We have been advised that it would be fair and reasonable for the compensatory rest to be given within the same working week.’
Jonathan Richards of Berlitz commented that it would be helpful if the British Council could give schools guidance on the Working Time Directive. The British Council says it is not their role to enforce employment legislation but that ‘if, during the course of an inspection, they [the inspectors] became aware that working conditions were impairing teachers’ ability to teach or care for students the inspectors would comment under the relevant criteria’.
The Children’s Commissioner for England has asked the Gazette to submit evidence on practices in the language summer school industry.