With perfect posture and a relaxed smile, yoga teachers seem to have everything worked out. But with the lotus poses and sun salutations business hitting £ 900 million a year in the UK alone, some have decided to want a fairer share. The UK’s first yoga teacher union was formed with the warning that despite the “chai latte” image of their practice, many endure poverty wages.
In the footsteps of gig economy peers like Uber drivers and takeaway couriers who have gone to court to campaign for improved conditions, a new branch of the UK’s Independent Workers Union is calling on the UK’s estimated 10,000 yoga teachers to enroll . The group does not insist that it is “unyogical” to ask for better pay.
The move will likely put teachers against networks of yoga studios and gyms, which typically pay between £ 10 and £ 20 an hour. With travel, preparation and physical exertion limiting lessons to no more than four hours in a day, the union says many teachers earn less than the living wage of £ 9.50 an hour or £ 10.85 in London, which is the minimum that they also demand paid leave. It will also address incidents of sexual harassment and bullying.
Covid has pounded the yoga business as studios and gyms are closed during curfew. However, prior to the pandemic, yoga studios’ revenues were sizeable and more and more people were training to be instructors. According to industry research by Ibis World, the number of people working in yoga and Pilates in the UK increased 12% between 2012 and 2020. In 2019, Triyoga, a London-based chain, reported revenues of £ 8 million from five studios. Pure Gym, the UK’s largest gym operator, which posted a profit of £ 30 million in 2019, is one of several national chains that employ yoga teachers.
“There is a divide between the image of the radiant yoga teacher floating around the world and the reality of working life struggling to make enough money to pay our rent,” said Simran Uppal, 25, the new secretary Labor union. “The global yoga industry is valued at £ 60 billion, but the majority of teachers I know are struggling to cope with poverty reduction. That’s how much money goes to studios selling eight pounds of green juice while teachers roam harassed and underpaid. “
Simran Uppal (left) and his friend Mali practice yoga in London Fields, Hackney. Photo: David Levene / The Guardian
The union, believed to be only second in the world after Unionize Yoga in New York, said a poll of members found 60% below living wages before Covid, with some as low as £ 5 each Hour paid including unpaid overtime. Since Covid, some have set up online yoga classes and others have done other work. Self-employed yoga teachers are not eligible for vacation pay and many fell between the loopholes in the government’s self-help system, Uppal said.
Lynette Greenaway, the union division’s black and ethnic minority officer, said: “There is an ingrained false belief that it is ‘unyogical’ to seek fair compensation. It’s a performative silence that – along with the carefree attitude of some studio owners towards our rights as workers – increases the pressure and stress on yoga teachers to pay our bills and make a decent living from our work. “
The move is before a pivotal Supreme Court ruling, expected within a few weeks, that will determine whether self-employed minicab drivers for Uber should be treated as workers and therefore receive the national minimum wage and vacation pay. Two drivers, Yaseen Aslam and James Farrer, have won a string of court wins that, if upheld by the UK’s highest court, could radically change workers’ rights in the gig economy.