TEFL Workers of the World, UNITE! … or ATL, UCU or IWW

Workplace concerns and workplace representation still represents a major source of disquiet for TEFL teachers.

One of the main problems in presenting a united front for teachers is that we are so disparate. There is no single forum that represents TEFL teachers’ interests nor a common bond which unites us. The transnational nature of the industry is also a major barrier to organising.

However, there is increasingly a consensus that teachers need representation, and that this would benefit the TEFL industry as a whole. So, how do we organise?

… but which one? In an industry which tends not to be unionised, there are a number of choices for teachers. I know the UK context best, so I’m going to summarise the main unions who represent EFL teachers in the UK.


The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (who are currently in negotiations to merger with NUT to create the biggest teachers union in Europe) was our choice when we unionised at Liverpool International College (and they were fabulous). The advantages of ATL are that they represent teachers in both the private and public sectors and they offer regular CPD sessions to members, depending on demand. You can find out more about ATL on their website.


I am a member and a rep for UCU. UCU is the biggest union which represents teachers of adults, almost exclusively in the college and university sectors, but also in private language schools. UCU are an influential union and have run some excellent campaigns on casualisation, workplace stress and inequality in the workplace.


UNITE are part of the world’s biggest trade union (in 2008 they merged with United Steel Workers in the US and have a presence in USA, Canada and Australia). While UNITE are not specifically a teaching union, they will represent all workers. UNITE are the chosen union for TEFL teachers in Dublin and they have had significant success in representing teachers there.

IWW (International Workers of the World)

Although just a small union, I have a soft spot for the IWW because they punch above their weight. IWW are an active union and represent workers, and have had real (and impressive) success, in the so-called “gig economy” (against the likes of UBER and Deliveroo). They are an international union and campaign strongly for the rights of migrant workers.

There are dozens of other unions. I think we need to start building a consensus as to which union would be the automatic choice for TEFL teachers (in the UK). We also need to think about how representation can cross borders – how can we organise the industry to represent workers in different countries, with their own local conditions, but part of the same global industry? It’s not easy, but it is possible.


6 thoughts on “TEFL Workers of the World, UNITE! … or ATL, UCU or IWW

  1. Sorry that’s nonsense. All being equal trust a union ahead of an employer … It’s not employers campaigning for equal pay or representing you in a tribunal. The IWW (I’ve never been a member) have fought the most difficult fights and have won (Uber and Deliveroo).
    Tell me your experiences of working in a non-unionised workplace versus a unionised one.

    Organising locally is great, but try transferring those terms and conditions across a border. Collective bargaining works.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Geoff, whilst it’s true that unions have imperfections it is also true that in the struggle between labour and capital they are and always have been key. Join and change from within. Without organised labour, way beyond “the local”, we will never be able to challenge neoliberalism in education.

    Liked by 2 people

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