Sometimes, when you think your contract is already pretty bad, you can end up putting your guard down, thinking it can't get any worse. This, as I've recently discovered in my job as a TEFL teacher, is not the case.
So there's been a lot of stuff going on at work recently; some days really exciting, others massively frustrating and depressing.
It's had me thinking and I thought I'd jot some stuff down as it could be of use to others, specifically those who share my particular personality defect i.e. that of being a lazy 'why do today what you can put off til next year?' layabout twat. It's also a good opportunity for me to vent about my current situation.
Anyway, some context: about three and a half years ago I moved to a southern European country ravaged by crisis so that I could learn to speak the same southern European language that my southern European girlfriend's parents speak (in this way easing their fears about the foreigner who wants to steal their daughter away from the country and its religious orthodoxy – this is still a work in progress).
I got a job as a TEFL teacher a little under a month after arriving in the country. I remember clearly the interview with my future manager, an Irish guy who had friends who lived in a neighbourhood near where I grew up. He explained the conditions I would be employed under:
“You'll have to flexible. Your hours will change from week to week but, in general, obviously most people have lessons when they're not at work. So maybe you'll be teaching at lunch-time and then again in the evenings. And you'll have to be available to work Saturdays.
“The contracts we offer are short, fixed-term contracts, like for freelance workers. You'll be paid an hourly rate for each hour of teaching you do, but obviously because you're a freelance worker we can't offer you sick or holiday pay. Your first contract will be for four months, and if it goes well, after that, we'll give you six-month contracts. How does that sound?”
Then we talked more about the neighbourhood and I laughed at his jokes as I walked out with my feet killing me coz I never wear these twat shoes enough to break them in.
So this is how I've been working these past few years. In the busy times of year sometimes leaving the house at 10am and leaving work at 9pm but only working (and being paid for) four or five hours, the rest being spent sitting around at the school or commuting from one company to another teaching marketing mangers in their offices. Then in the quiet months maybe I'd have two hours one day and one of them would cancel forcing me to spend whatever I'd saved in the months before.
So this all sounds massively shit but, to be honest, after a while I got used to it. The pay wasn't great but I got into a routine, making enough to cover my rent, bills, nights at the pub and the odd trip to eat out somewhere.
And even if the contract he gave me was shit, my manager was actually a decent enough guy who pitched in with work around the school, covered your classes if necessary etc. As a result of this, there weren't really any particular issues or problems.
This is obviously no longer the case. Massive changes are planned for our contracts. What the changes will be is still a mystery but, more or less, some people will be hired on permanent contracts (but with a pay cut and increased hours) while others will be made self-employed and asked to open special tax numbers (getting taxed like a small business owner and hiring an accountant to help you claim it back at the end of the year).
Others, it seems, will just be made redundant. Except that, as they were 'freelance' workers before, there's no redundancy pay. Just no more 'projects' to renew.
Some of us teachers are trying to get something organised now. In fact, tonight is our second out-of-work meeting. But we were caught flat-footed and going from 'no struggle' to 'all-out struggle for our jobs' is a tall order. It's hard to keep people buoyant enough to believe we can win. It's hard enough to keep myself buoyant to be honest.
And the atmosphere at work has changed. A bitterness has developed among us who are up for organising towards those who aren't. Conversation with workmates I used to chat easily with has become strained and forced. Last minute changes to schedules (always a pain in the arse), have – with the stress of imminent unemployment – become impossible to deal with. Even our manager, previously friendly and helpful, can feel it and his attempts to cover up the tension only serve to highlight it even more.
Whether this situation could ever have been any different, I don't know. There was genuinely very little to fight over the past few years. That said, I think my main mistake was I believed that however shit my contract was, at least it couldn't get any shitter. I believed it was stable in its shitness and acted accordingly. Obviously that was wrong: no matter how shit your work is, it can always get shitter. I'm pretty sure Marx wrote something about that once. Or if he didn't then he should have.
I should have had this in mind when I started the job. Looking back maybe there were small issues that weren't such a big deal at the time but if we'd managed to flex our muscles a bit then we'd feel a bit more confident now. Maybe we'd have made the idea of sticking together over little things normal. Instead grumbling to each other has become the norm, which might have been enough for those past problems but definitely not now.
Really, nothing at work is ever stable, and, if you stay at your job long enough, even your decent manager will end up fucking you over. Even if you thought you were already fucked when you started.