Teacher unions to table joint motion over vaccine priority schedule

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The conferences of the country’s three teacher trade unions are continuing today.

Updated 26 minutes ago

THE COUNTRY’S THREE teachers’ unions are expected to table a motion asking that teachers be moved back up the vaccine priority schedule at their annual conferences this morning.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) agreed to a joint motion yesterday, which will look at options on industrial action if members are not moved up the priority list.

The government has said the change to an age-based model will mean vaccines can be delivered faster over the next few months. However, the change essentially removes a ‘key workers’ cohort that had planned to vaccinate some people based on their occupation.

The joint motion will seek to commit the unions to work together to demand vaccine prioritisation for teachers. Should that fail, the motion will mandate the unions to explore any and all options, up to and including industrial action.

The unions have said any industrial action will not affect the reopening of schools next week.

Education Minister Norma Foley said that “it has never been in the gift of the Department of Education, indeed my gift, the gift of government or indeed any politician to make a promise on vaccination priority”. 

“The vaccination schedule was designed by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee and endorsed by public health”.

Minister Foley told Morning Ireland the decision to shift to an age-based vaccine roll-out was not “a value judgement” on any profession but based on the available science. 

When asked if false promises had been made to teachers to get them back to work earlier this year, Foley said the Department indicted “every step of the way” that it would adapt and accept the recommendation of public health officials, adding that schools are proven to be areas of low transmission. 

She said she is asking everyone within the education sector to abide by public health.

The vast majority of those working within the education sector are very conscious of the need to cater for those who are most vulnerable. We now know unequivocally that the most vulnerable are those who have particular age cohorts. They are the individuals who should be catered for first. 

On the possibility of strike action, Foley said: “I do appreciate that this is a disappointment for the education sector, and indeed other sectors that have been impacted, but equally so, I know the education sector…their priority is to accept the scientific evidence and cater for those who are most vulnerable in the midst of this pandemic.”

Addressing INTO delegates yesterday, the minister said she could understand the sense of disappointment felt by many in the education sector and other sectors. However, she said health officials had presented the government with medical evidence underpinning the recent change.

“Fundamentally this recommendation has been driven by the fact that national and international evidence now confirm that age is the strongest predictor of whether a person who contracts Covid-19 will be admitted to hospital or ICU or die as a result of their infection,” she said. 

Foley is due to address TUI delegates later today. 

‘Shambles’

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire described Minister Foley’s address as “underwhelming and disappointing” and accused her of not acknowledging the commitments made to frontline staff – including education staff – in relation to the vaccine rollout.

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“Those commitments have been broken. That is the simple reality. Vaccination across the board has been a shambles so far,” said Ó Laoghaire.

“There are certain services and sectors that government decided were essential to keep functioning, and childcare, education, the gardaí, transport and food are clearly among those sectors.

He called for priority to be restored to workers, who are at higher risk than those working from home or in safer environments: “Plainly age is a huge determinant in a vaccine priority, but we can have a process that is primarily age driven, while also ensuring frontline workers are prioritised.”

ASTI President Ann Piggott told delegates yesterday that teachers in the high-risk category who are suffering from cancer, heart failure and other illnesses must be facilitated to work from home until they are safely vaccinated.

Piggott said these teachers, and teachers in the 60 to 64 category, have been told to return to “choc-a-block” classrooms from 12 April.

“The latest promised ease of restrictions will allow only two people who are vaccinated to meet indoors, but in undersized classrooms, the parallel universe continues: 33 can meet without vaccinations.”

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