Thursday 4 February: Yoga teachers in the UK have voted to form a new branch of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which organises precarious and gig economy workers including Uber and Deliveroo drivers. This is the first trade union for yoga teachers in the UK, and the second ever in the world, after Unionize Yoga in New York.
Key concerns include unpaid overtime and poverty pay well below living wage, as well as a lack of basic workers’ rights like sick pay and annual leave. Members also report an endemic culture of bullying, harassment and discrimination. The IWGB Yoga Teachers’ Union already operates working groups on on these issues and offers training on responding to and preventing sexual harassment.
COVID-19 has thrown many yoga teachers into poverty, with many ineligible for furlough and falling between the gaps of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). According to membership surveys conducted by the IWGB Yoga Teachers’ Union over 60% earned below living wage before COVID-19, with some earning as little as £5 an hour including unpaid overtime. Only 4% of yoga teachers report having employee status and basic protections, going down to 3% in the case of female yoga teachers. Only 19% have written contracts of any sort, less than 17% in the case of female yoga teachers of colour.
Laura Hancock, Chair, IWGB Yoga Teachers’ Union says: “Too many yoga teachers are earning less than the living wage and are in need of basic workers’ rights. This is devastating the health and wellbeing of teachers working hard to create safe and supportive environments for their students and communities. By coming together, organising and raising our collective voice, we are much stronger and have a much greater potential to make real, long-term, positive changes that will benefit us all.”
Lynette Greenaway, BAME Officer, IWGB Yoga Teachers’ Union says: “The labour of yoga teachers has been systematically undervalued. We clean and prep venues, travel extensively, plan classes, sign students in, do free marketing for our employers, deal with our students' emotional and spiritual dilemmas, and show up and stay well beyond our teaching time, and more. This is all unpaid overtime, and there's a deeply ingrained false belief that it is 'unyogic' to ask for adequate compensation. It's a performative silence that - together with cavalier attitudes towards our rights as workers on the part of some studio owners - increases the pressure and stress on yoga teachers to pay our bills and make a decent living from our work. Yoga teacher pay needs a complete overhaul."
Simran Uppal, Secretary, IWGB Yoga Teachers’ Union says: “The global yoga industry is worth around £60 billion and much of that wealth is being extracted from underpaid, exploited yoga teachers. We’re not monks protected by an ashram or a wealthy elite of wellness celebrities. We have to survive just like the other precarious workers in the IWGB and around the world. It’s time for the yoga industry to live its values and respect our human rights.”
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