Joint statement: Teacher unions condemn failure to protect staff in early pregnancy

School staff in early pregnancy and certain cohorts of immune compromised members are not currently eligible for vaccination. With increasing concern in respect of very high rates of community infection and growing unease about the transmissibility of the delta variant being central to regular public health messages from NPHET, we are alarmed that this small cohort of the school workforce is being sent back to school settings prematurely, prior to getting the opportunity to achieve significant vaccine protection.

Three months ago, public health advisers assured education unions that all of our members would be offered vaccines before the next school year began. While we acknowledge that the vast majority of our members have received vaccines in advance of schools reopening, we find it incredible that government expects vulnerable members in the early stages of their pregnancy to return to school buildings without vaccine protection.

Over the last number of weeks, we have called on the Department of Education to engage with these workers directly and to provide short term relief, enabling them to work from home for a short period of time until they have the same opportunity as all other education workers to build up immunity against COVID-19.

For the entirety of the last academic term, all pregnant teachers were permitted to work from home, and not a single child was unable to attend their school on foot of that sensible precaution. Pregnant workers in the early stages of their pregnancy represent a small cohort of all pregnant staff and so any impact on the delivery of education would be lower still as they would continue to work remotely.

We condemn the failure of the Minister for Education and the Department of Education to provide alternative time-bound working arrangements for teachers who have been ineligible to receive vaccines. To cause a group of pregnant workers to endure weeks of anxiety and fear is unconscionable. We reiterate today our call for swift action to be taken to permit these workers to work from home and support pupils remotely, until such time as they achieve significant vaccine protection.