Teacher unions pass emergency motions demanding teacher vaccination

Earlier this morning, the three teaching unions, the ASTI, INTO and TUI passed a joint motion at their respective Easter congresses condemning the recent changes to the priority listing for teachers within the national vaccination programme, which were announced by Government without consultation with workers’ representatives. 

All three teacher conferences demanded the immediate reinstatement of education staff as a priority group within the national vaccination programme, considering the essential nature of their work which requires them to be in daily contact with a large number of persons from a large number of households and further considering that social distancing is problematic and not assured given the crowded nature structure and layout of our workplaces. 

Noting higher risk groups within the combined education workforces, all three unions have called for early vaccination within the overall cohort of education staff for pregnant teachers, those in higher risk categories and those who work in special schools, special classes and home school community liaison teachers. 

In the event that the Government does not agree to schedule, by the end of the current school year, vaccinations on the basis demanded above, all three teacher congresses instructed their respective leadership teams to ballot members for industrial action, up to and including strike action. 

ASTI General Secretary Kieran Christie said:

Second-level teachers spend their day in classes of up to 30 students, often in poorly ventilated buildings. They mix with approximately 250 young people each day. Social distancing is challenging at best.

It is simply not acceptable for the Government to tell teachers that they are valued ‘essential workers’ and then expect them to stand in line with those who have remote facilities available to them. In the context of a national strategy to keep schools open, it is only logical that school staff would be included as a priority group after the vulnerable have been vaccinated. The joint motion passed by the teacher unions this morning provides a strong platform to pursue this objective.

INTO General Secretary John Boyle said:

Our resilience as a nation in responding to the perils of this pandemic must be led by creative solutions that ensure all key workers in crowded settings are vaccinated. Alongside an age-based rollout, a parallel programme targeting priority workers will enable us to ensure critical public services such as our school remain open. This joint motion is designed to build the strongest campaigning platform possible among teachers to ensure the safety of our members in the most crowded classrooms in the EU. It is imperative that government does the right thing and stands by its promise to the teachers of Ireland.

Establishing a parallel programme – vaccinating the elderly and vulnerable alongside key workers –would protect our most at-risk members at the earliest opportunity followed in quick succession by those who are at slightly lesser risk. The point that appears to have been lost on Government is that we simply want to ensure that they follow the science. The most up to date public health advice stated clearly that workers in crowded settings need to be prioritised. It’s common sense. The Government appear to have been selective in how they have communicated the latest advice to the public, overlooking the advice related to key frontline workers in crowded settings, in an attempt to justify their changes following controversy over their oversight of the vaccine rollout.

TUI General Secretary Michael Gillespie said:

It is the position of both the United Nations and the World Health Organisation that teachers be prioritised for early vaccination.

As we have stated at all times, it is only after the most vulnerable in society have been catered for that teachers should become part of a parallel programme that would recognise the significant health and safety issues around their key role as essential workers.

In this regard, we have particular concern for our members who are pregnant or who are at risk because of an underlying health issue, along with those working in special schools and special classes. Once again, it is important to state that a commitment was made to us – in correspondence from the Department on 10 and 23 February – that teachers would be prioritised for vaccination as part of the first third of the adult population.

We urge the Department to do the right thing and to meaningfully engage with us on this issue.