Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has commented this evening on the announcement by the ASTI that they are to ballot their members for industrial action.
Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:
“The issues that the ASTI have raised are issues that can and must be resolved. Sinn Féin identified the need to apply effective social distancing and protect school staff at high-risk as key priorities in a document we submitted to the Department of Education two weeks ago called ‘Keeping Schools Open’.
“We proposed an audit of school buildings to identify schools under the most pressure to achieve social distancing and proposed a fund for schools to build, acquire modular units, or rent space to reduce the pupil teacher ratio. The fact is that reopening schools safely has been challenging because we have an education system that is overcrowded, underfunded and understaffed.
“We have also raised the issue of high-risk staff. It is unconscionable that teachers who are at high-risk or who have relatives at home who are high-risk are being forced to work in an environment in which they do not feel safe. There are solutions to be found.
“We also agree that the unequal pay rates between teachers is unacceptable and unsustainable.
“These issues have been on the agenda for weeks now. It is unacceptable that the Department of Education has allowed things to get to this point; with the ASTI now seeing no alternative but to ballot their members for industrial action.
“I absolutely believe that a strike can be avoided, but the government now needs to take action. They need to engage urgently with the ASTI and other school staff unions (INTO, TUI and Fórsa) to address the issues that have been raised.”