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Teachers' unions issue warning amid Covid concerns

Fears in wake of school reopening

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Forum: John Boyle of the INTO cited concerns over the speed of testing

Forum: John Boyle of the INTO cited concerns over the speed of testing

Forum: John Boyle of the INTO cited concerns over the speed of testing

A union representing post-primary teachers has issued a warning to the Government saying it will not let its members be put in harm's way during the Covid-19 crisis.

A spokesman for the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) told the Irish Independent it "will not allow the health and safety of our members to be put at risk".

"We have made clear at all points that in situations where there is not compliance with public health advice in schools, we will take immediate action locally," he said.

It comes after the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) signalled its intentions to ballot members for industrial action over a range of school reopening issues.

These include concerns over high-risk staff members, pay issues, turnaround times for Covid-19 testing and physical distancing in schools.

However, it has not yet decided what form of industrial action may be taken, pending the outcome of the ballot.

Echoing the ASTI's comments, the TUI said it also has a number of concerns in the wake of schools re-opening. It said it is in "constant consultation" with members and is addressing issues as soon as they arise with the Department of Education.

It wants teachers to have access to a test on the first day they experience symptoms of the virus "with a guarantee of a result within 24-hours". Failure to do this will result in severe disruption in schools in the coming months, the spokesman added.

He also welcomed that the ASTI's ballot will address difficulties facing teachers who are enduring unequal pay.

He said the TUI already has a strong mandate for industrial action on the "unacceptable" two-tier pay system after a previous ballot of members saw 19,000 of them taking strike action last February.

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Meanwhile, the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) said it will "continue to stand up for our members and demand any additional resources which may be needed".

INTO general secretary John Boyle also cited concerns over the speed of test results and contact tracing.

It represents over 40,000 primary school teachers and has demanded that a full review of the adequacy of supports for primary and special schools be initiated before the end of the month.

This is to ensure that any additional resources required to ensure safety in schools is factored into plans for October's Budget.

Mr Boyle said he also wants to see Budget 2021 delivering a reduction in class sizes.

"Ireland's super-sized classrooms are the largest in the EU, with one in five pupils learning in a class of 30 or more," he said.

He said the union has secured a weekly forum with the department which it is using "to resolve all issues relating to the safety of our members".

Moving to allay concerns, the Department of Education insisted it is constantly engaging with the public health authorities to ensure schools can remain open safely.

The Schools Pathway Protocol sets out guidelines where there has been a confirmed case or a potential outbreak in a school.

"To date, where confirmed cases have arisen, schools have co-operated with public health to minimise any further risk to the school community," said a spokesperson.

An "enhanced occupational healthcare service" has also been put in place to categorise staff into one of three Covid-19 categories.

Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland


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