Teacher unions trying to coordinate potential strike action over vaccine rollout change, says TUI

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The conferences of the country’s three teacher trade unions start online today.

Updated 14 minutes ago

RECENT CHANGES TO the vaccine rollout plan are expected to feature heavily at the conferences of the country’s teachers trade unions starting today. 

The decision to implement an age-based model of vaccine sequencing over one that prioritised groups like teachers and gardaí was met with anger from some representative groups last week. 

The government says this 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 Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) congresses will kick off online later today, with TUI President Martin Marjoram saying the union is working to coordinate with others on potential strike action.

He said members will consider an emergency motion for industrial action on the vaccine roll tomorrow morning but “we’ve a lot of water to go under bridges before we get to decisions and ballots”.

Marjoram told Newstalk’s Breakfast Briefing that teachers are not looking to get ahead of anyone else on the vaccination priority list, saying “we took the plan as it originally was”.

“We genuinely think that there’s every possibility of running the age-based system in parallel with something that is specifically directed towards particular professions”, he said.

INTO General Secretary John Boyle said this morning that the change by the government was “dishonourable” and that a “twin-track approach” could be taken instead.

“You could have the age groups on the left-hand side queue, and just like we have with the healthcare workers, that you would have the teachers, the guards, and the shop workers, and anyone else in a crowded setting on the right-hand side,” Boyle told Morning Ireland.

We would still get through the teachers so that it would be in the first third of the population vaccinated, as was promised when the Minister was so keen to get us back into schools back in February.

He said the “big difficulty” will be that schools won’t have staff, “because before Easter with the infection levels rising staff were falling”. 

Boyle also claimed, based on the increased pace of the vaccination programme, that gardaí and teachers could be vaccinated in less than a week if this was desired. 

Education Minister Norma Foley is due to speak at the INTO annual congress this afternoon with Boyle saying members need to get clarity as to why the change happened, “and we’re still not convinced by what was heard”.

The ASTI teacher’s union meeting with the Minister and public health officials last weeks was described as “unsatisfactory”. 

The recommendation from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) is based on evidence that age is the biggest factor that determines your risk of severe illness from Covid-19.

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An age-based model rather than one based on profession could also contribute to a quicker rollout. Once everyone aged over 70, those with underlying health conditions and vulnerable groups are vaccinated, people will begin to receive vaccines on the basis of age.

However, unions representing frontline workers and teachers say their members should get priority access due to the high risk of both catching the virus and passing it on to others due to the nature of their work.

Struggling students 

Also on the agenda for today’s congresses are classroom sizes, curricular reform, as well as the terms and conditions of teachers’ employment.

A recent survey of TUI members found that teachers believe additional supports will be needed next year to assist students who may have struggled with the move to emergency remote teaching.  

“Of great concern to teachers is that 93% noticed disengagement by some of their students as a result of the move to emergency remote teaching and learning,” said TUI President Martin Marjoram.

76% believe that emergency remote learning had a disproportionately negative effect on students from disadvantaged backgrounds, while 86% believe that additional supports are needed for 2021/22 to assist those students who may have lost out most as a result of the move to emergency remote teaching and learning. 

The survey also notes that 73% of members believe that some students were unable to engage with emergency remote teaching and learning as a result of not having access to appropriate electronic devices.

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