More than 120 people attended a rally to support 12 union members locked out by their employer, Langports Language College, on 24 May in Brisbane. The workers were locked out for 24 hours for wearing badges which read “3Rs: Reward, Respect, Recognise”.
Langports is a family-owned Australian company whose main business is providing English language classes to international students. Speakers described how management insists it respects staff because it “gives them birthday cards”. Yet three years ago the company cut wages. This action forced angry staff to form a union, and for the past 12 months they have been trying to negotiate their first union agreement.
In addition to the three Rs, the workers’ demands include fair pay for marking and preparation for both permanent staff and casuals, and a dispute resolution process.
Langports seems to enjoy locking out its workforce. In April one staff member was locked out for five days for wearing a denim jacket. This decision was subsequently overturned by the Fair Work Commission.
In protest against management’s heavy-handedness, staff started wearing the 3Rs badges. In response management locked out all union members for 24 hours. When staff asked why they’d been locked out management replied, “Because we can”.
Staff have since been advised that there is a new uniform policy and they can wear denim only once a month and only on a day approved by management. For the privilege, furthermore, staff are expected to make a donation to the employer-run Langports Foundation to assist disadvantaged children.
Mark, a teacher, read out statements from many of the locked-out teachers. They expressed feeling “dehumanised because we were locked out for wearing a badge” and “underappreciated for all the extra work I do”. Teachers with extensive English language teaching experience are struggling to survive on the graduate teacher wages, while casual teachers are saying, “The pay is so low I have to work three jobs to support my family”.
Others commented that the “lockout forces us to choose between our students and our working conditions”. More than 20 students were present with signs expressing support for the teachers.