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IEU SPEAKS: Back to School Plan Unworkable

The staggered start to Term 1 is a wasted opportunity to:

  • Increase vaccination levels of students
  • Wait for an expected peak of Omicron infections to subside &
  • Negotiate workable protocols for the H&S of school communities

Either it is safe to re-start school for all students or no students.

The staggered start is a non-decision which does little more than inconvenience staff and parents whilst kicking the can down the road for some.

The plan was devised in consultation with our employers who have agreed to comply with the procedures, but there was no consultation with either union. There are consequently substantial practical issues left unresolved. The IEU will be raising these issues with the government directly.

There needs to be a more workable solution for staff who become a close contact at work.

Plans to reduce staff absenteeism by allowing asymptomatic staff determined to be close contacts to return to work (with regular negative testing) are unworkable if staff have to isolate from their families and communities for 7 days as soon as they leave work. Either a “close contact” needs to isolate or not. Teachers will be close contacts of up to hundreds of students each day. The probability of significant numbers of students becoming infected would mean that teachers are likely to be in perpetual isolation as each new case emerges.

The definition and treatment of an “educational close contact” needs to soften the isolation requirements for the person 24/7 rather than just when they are economically useful. If staff were to wear N95 PPE they should be not considered as a close contact for say 7 hours rather than just 15 minutes.

The use of Rapid Antigen Testing kits (RATs) will be important in early identification of Covid cases, but supply must be improved and the kits must be provided free along with N95 masks and any other necessary PPE.

Air purity has become a contentious issue with the Department preferring ventilation to the provision of air purifiers. An initial step could easily be the provision of CO2 monitors to alert occupants when ventilation was inadequate and remedial action taken.

Employers are looking to deduct absence by Covid cases from their personal sick leave accruals. Most agreements contain an infectious diseases clause granting up to 12 months leave for diseases likely to have been acquired in the school setting. This will require a workplace connection but is widely available and should be claimed where appropriate.

IEU Position & Future Action

It is the IEU position that staff should not suffer any financial detriment if forced to be absent (with or without duties) because of Covid-related quarantine.

As much as the AEU is considering taking industrial action over these issues, the IEU operates in the federal industrial relations system which requires any industrial action to be in the context of enterprise bargaining and after a ballot of members conducted by the AEC and Fair Work Commission approval.

Luckily, Catholic bargaining is ongoing as are some AIS schools. This does allow for the option of industrial action in half of our sector if lobbying of government and employers is not productive.

Sub-branch meetings are still an opportunity

If you are concerned about safety or controls at your school, speak with your IEU School REP and they can organise for an IEU Organiser to visit and meet with members to discuss your concerns.

Stay tuned for further updates.

Glen Seidel