Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire has said that the Minister for Education and the Minister for Health must urgently address the very significant issues and concerns raised by the ASTI in their vote for industrial action.
Speaking today, Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:
“The fact is that reopening schools safely has been challenging because we have an education system that is overcrowded, underfunded and understaffed.
“The last thing anyone wants to see at this point is industrial action in schools. I include parents, children, teachers and staff in that.
“But it is clear that ASTI and teachers feel that the very legitimate grievances and concerns they have are being ignored.
“Industrial action can still be averted, however, even at this advanced stage. The issues can be resolved and indeed must be resolved.
“They are issues that have long been flagged. We highlighted these very same concerns two months ago in our Keeping Schools Open policy document. It is crazy that the minister has done nothing to address these concerns since then.
“Last week I raised in the Dáil my concerns regarding contact tracing. The undeniable fact is that teachers and schools staff are not confident in the time it takes to contact them, or indeed the criteria being used.
“School tracing teams are a good idea, but only if properly resourced, properly deployed and, crucially, working to the right criteria. We need to hear much more from the Department of Education and Department of Health on this.
“It is unconscionable that teachers who are at high risk, or indeed who have relatives at home who are at high risk, are being forced to work in an environment that they do not feel safe in. There are solutions and alternatives here if the department wants to find them.
“We proposed an immediate audit of school buildings to identify the schools under the most pressure to achieve social distancing, and a fund of €100m in the first year for schools to build, get modular units, or rent space, as well as reducing the pupil-teacher ratio by a further point.
“Sinn Féin has long said that resolving these issues of rapid, effective and accurate contract tracing is key, and that protecting school staff, and ensuring social distancing are key ingredients to keeping the schools open.
“The department has been deaf to those raising these issues for months now and it is unacceptable that the minister has allowed this situation escalate to this point.
“I absolutely believe that this can be resolved, and that a strike can be avoided. But the government needs to engage urgently with the ASTI and indeed the other school staff unions – INTO, TUI, Fórsa – and resolve this, get tracing right, address overcrowded classrooms, and ensure high risk staff are safe.”
Teachta Ó Laoghaire also said that it was significant that the members had voted for industrial action on achieving pay equality.
He added: “The result of ballot question four should not escape attention. The discrepancy among teachers in the same classroom, doing the same work, and paid according to different rates, has been dragging on for far too long.
“It is clear that patience has long since run out. It is high time this inequality was rectified. There must be equal pay for equal work.”