I’ve written previously on my other blog about discriminatory hiring practices in TEFL. You can find the post here and I promise to post it on this blog soon too. In a nutshell, over 70% of the posts advertised on the biggest search engine for TEFL job seekers, tefl.com, are exclusively for NESTs (Native Speaker English Teacher). If you’re not one, don’t bother applying. You might have a PhD and 100 years of teaching experience, but no one will even bother looking at your CV.
Common sense and gut feeling tell most of us that what we have here is a clear case of discrimination. Same as any other type of discrimination, such as based on gender, race or ethnicity. But gut feeling is only just that, and can only get you so far. Have you ever wondered, though, whether such ads were legal
I have. And I went where most people in doubt go to (no, not the psychologist or a psychic): I googled it! To narrow my scope, I focused on the European Union. Very quickly google told me that the law had the same gut feeling as I did.
Here are some of the things I found:
- Article 21 of EU basic rights reads as follows (highlighted by me):
1. Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited. 2.Within the scope of application of the Treaties and without prejudice to any of their specific provisions, any discrimination on grounds of nationality shall be prohibited.
You can access the full document here. This just confirms what we all know. Discrimination against race and nationality is illegal in the EU. My gut feeling was telling me that non-native speakers were being discriminated against on the basis of their language, birth and ethnic origin.
Let’s delve deeper and see what gems EU law holds for us in store.
In 2001, in an answer to written question E-4100/00, the European Commission (EC) stated that:
It follows that the native speaker criterion could be considered to be discriminatory and thus incompatible with the Community rules on the freedom of movement of workers in the Community.
In May 2002 the EC also announced that:
The Commission is of the opinion that the phrase “native speaker” is not acceptable, under any circumstances, under Community law. […] the Commission recommends using a phrase such as “perfect or very good knowledge of a particular language” as a condition of access to posts for which a very high level of knowledge of that language is necessary.
That same year, a Commission Communication of 11 December 2002 on ‘Free movement of workers – achieving the full benefits and potential’ (COM (2002) 694 final), when asked about language requirements for particular jobs, reads as follows:
the language requirement must be reasonable and necessary for the job in question and must not be used to exclude workers, so that advertisements requiring a particular language as a ‘mother tongue’ are not acceptable.
One year later, when a German MEP, Jo Leinen, asked the EC whether the words “native speaker” could be used in a job advertisement, 0n 23 May 2003 the EC ruled the following:
In its answer to Question E-0941 the commission states that the term native speaker is not acceptable, under any circumstance, under community law. The Commission also states its intention of continuing to use its powers to fight against any discrimination caused by a requirement for native speaker knowledge in job advertisements.
So, it seems that as a prospective employee you have many rights and there are very strict anti-discrimination rules by which the recruiter needs to abide both in the job advertisements, as well as in the whole recruitment process. You can read more about your rights and recruiters obligations here.
All this means that employers are only allowed to ask for native-like competence in a given language, which on CEFR is C2, but not for a mother tongue.
What does this mean for you as an aspiring NNEST?
That it’s high time you got angry and acted. Don’t bury your head in the sand. Don’t be discouraged if you see a NEST only ad. Stand up for your rights and make your voice heard. The law is on your side so use it. And you have the power to change the status quo.
Not to say that you have to take somebody to court right away, but politely informing the language school they are breaking the law might just do the trick. I’ve done so on numerous occasions. More often than not, schools are quite eager to listen to persuasive arguments and are willing to change their ads and recruitment policies.
What if I’m a NEST? Why would I bother doing anything?
Because your help is vital. Your school might not only be choosing teachers based on nationality, rather than their qualifications and experience, but also breaking the law. You might be doing them a big favour by informing them about it. If you’ve always felt that native speakers only ads were unfair, that teachers should be valued on the basis of their qualifications, then it’s your chance to do something about it by joining the movement.
For example, take a look at this really inspiring article from Adam Beale, in which he tells us why he decided to refuse an interview offer from an employer that only recruited ‘native speakers’. If you’re not exactly sure what’s the best way to react to the job ads for ‘native speakers’ only that you see, this post by Katherine Bilsborough is really helpful.
Footnote: I’ve only described the law in the EU and I’m not sure what it’s like outside the community. However, this is where you can come in. Investigate what the law says about it in your country. Consult an anti-discrimination organisation. I’d love to hear your feedback.
Let’s be pro-active!