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IEU Positioning for School Return 2022

24 Jan 2022

A Principled Stand

The IEU’s responses to the current debate have been based on the principles of

  • Ensuring safety at work for members
  • Ensuring ongoing work with fair conditions
  • Returning to Face-to-Face (F2F) teaching and learning
  • Consultation between workers and decision makers
  • Supporting public safety measures based on expert health advice

Often there is a conflict between these objectives and, after stakeholders have been heard, decisions will be made and remade to deal with a balance of principle and practicality.

Safety at Work

Members’ safety at work could be ensured if schools did not open, but that could be at the expense of some members’ jobs. The argument over if and when schools open has been settled in South Australia with a staggered start as a form of compromise.

New classifications of “Classroom Contact”, “Workplace Contact” and (for ESOs/LSOs) “SSO 1:1 close contact” have been devised to accommodate the operation of schools. There is no suggestion of COVID positive students or staff returning immediately to the workplace.

Non-government schools to follow Government plan

Our non-government school employer bodies have agreed to follow the government school return plan, but I expect that we will find some schools pushing the boundaries and taking shortcuts. Schools need to be challenged if they do.  Contact our office with any concerns with what your school is putting in place.

Industrial treatment of absence

The industrial treatment of absence due to workplace-related COVID issues is shaping up as a major area of dispute. Although COVID is not specifically listed, the infectious diseases clause in most Enterprise Agreements (EAs) makes provision for its inclusion.  If caught at work, COVID should be included.

On that basis a Return to Work claim / Workers Compensation may be an option. Make contact with our office to discuss.

Members should not have to use Personal Leave (sick leave) if they are absent from work because of a work-related cause. If people do work from home, they should be paid as normal.

Catholic EA claim modified for COVID

The IEU has put a claim on the Catholic EA bargaining table to add COVID specifically to the list of infectious diseases and we have reinstated our previously abandoned claim for paid pandemic leave. Association of Independent Schools (AIS) agreement negotiations will contain similar claims.

Maximising Vaccinations

Maximising student vaccination is a safety measure protecting all in the school community.


There is some debate about the grade of masks which are necessary. It would appear at this stage that Australian health advice does not specify a standard, so cloth, surgical and N95 are currently acceptable. The IEU’s position is that the masks should be of the appropriate standard and that the employer has a legislated WHS obligation to provide suitable masks to staff without charge and replace them at the appropriate intervals. The IEU intervened to obtain a reversal of the Catholic policy of BYO masks. The letter to the Director explains the basis which applies to all employers.


Testing of students and staff has been another area of debate. Currently there will be no routine surveillance testing of staff or students with either Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) or PCR tests in SA. At the time of writing, it appears that Early Childhood staff, will need to provide a negative RAT result 3 times a week because other control measures are not possible. When an asymptomatic staff member becomes a classroom contact, RAT testing will be needed for 7 days to allow for ongoing duties.  The prior requirement to isolate at home has been rescinded due to its unworkability because of IEU and other input. All required RAT kits will be provided free of charge.

Ceasing unsafe work

Work Health and Safety (WHS) legislation permits workers and Health and Safety Reps (HSRs) to cease work if it is unsafe. Members are advised to seek advice from the IEU if they believe this is appropriate. Some people will have particular vulnerabilities which may require special consideration. Pregnant women do have the right to paid “no safe work leave” under the National Employments Standards (NES). Again these situations will be dealt with according to their own facts and formal procedures so prior advice should be sought.


Ventilation is a factor which can improve safety levels. As much as employers may have performed a “ventilation audit”, in the absence of clear health advice on a universal air standard, all concerns will need to be addressed on a case by case basis. Make contact with us with any specific concerns.

The way forward

In summary, every protective action that reasonably can be taken should be. Each action, no matter how minor compounds in reducing the odds of contracting and spreading COVID. In working out how we devise and implement new rules and protocols we need to bear in mind the 5 basic principles we started with

  • Ensuring safety at work for members
  • Ensuring ongoing work with fair conditions
  • Returning to F2F teaching and learning
  • Consultation between workers and decision makers
  • Ensuring public safety through expert health advice

Further information

Detailed information can be obtained from the following sources, but unexpected issues and interpretations will emerge. Members, please contact your Organiser or the Office directly for advice and advocacy.

The IEU has a FAQ web page at:

IEU supporting members

Make sure you connect with the IEUSA Facebook page where current information and ongoing conversations may be accessed.

The IEU(SA) can be reached by phoning 8410 0122 or emailing:

Member email updates will be issued from time to time. Please make sure you read them promptly.

Employers will be prone to adopting interpretations and procedures aligned with their objectives of the smooth running of a school. These approaches sometimes short circuit industrial fairness and may need challenging informally or formally… that is a key benefit of IEU Membership.

If talking with non-members, remind them that they can expect no assistance with issues which predate their membership. The time to join is now – click here…

Nobody asked to be in this mess. But we are where we are and when acting as “union” we are stronger together.


In Solidarity

Glen Seidel
IEU(SA) Secretary