Waltham Forest Echo

Waltham Forest Echo

Yoga teacher makes stretch for workers’ rights

Leytonstone yoga practitioner tells Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter, why the profession needs to unionise A yoga teacher has explained why she [...]

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Yoga teacher Jessica Green
By Waltham Forest Echo 16 February 2021

Leytonstone yoga practitioner tells Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter, why the profession needs to unionise

A yoga teacher has explained why she joined Europe’s first – and world’s second-ever – trade union specifically for the profession.

Jessica Green, 43, has been a teacher for about six years, having taken her first ever class at Leytonstone Leisure Centre nearly 20 years ago. But a lack of regulation means she may earn as little as £5 for a class, or work for three hours but be paid for only one, sometimes barely making minimum wage. 

Yoga teachers across the UK have now set up one of the first-ever trade unions for the industry – worth £60billion globally – in an effort to win a liveable wage and basic rights such as sick pay.

Jessica told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “I’m very vulnerable. If I’m sick or if I have a cancellation, I don’t get paid. This is why I was so interested in the union.

“When I was teaching in studios, if only one person made the class, I would make £5. If you’re working with a big organisation, there’s no reason why you should not have some security.

“If a studio has a certain number of memberships then its teachers should benefit from that because we are the ones doing that work.”

Jessica predicts new regulations to protect teachers would also benefit smaller studios, which “rarely make a profit”, by holding large companies accountable for “hogging the market”.

The Yoga Teachers’ Union (YTU) is a new branch of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which organises gig economy workers, who often work zero-hour contracts. IWGB represents employees of companies including Uber and Deliveroo and last year won a court battle to ensure their health and safety is protected.

YTU hopes to win yoga teachers the right to sick pay and annual leave and tackle what members describe as an unchecked culture of “bullying, harassment and discrimination”.

Jessica agrees that the yoga industry shuts out many types of people, adding: “You have to be a certain way, have a certain amount of money, or look a certain way.”

She is keen to make her lessons accessible, including ‘chair yoga’ for those who are elderly or less mobile and teaching at street parties and community groups.

YTU secretary Simran Uppal said: “The global yoga industry is worth around £60bn 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.” 

A survey of members conducted by the union found only 4% of yoga teachers have employee status and basic protection, and less than a fifth have a written contract. This lack of formal employment has left many even more vulnerable to poverty because of the Covid-19 pandemic, making them ineligible for furlough payments or even the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.