Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has called on the Minister for Education to engage with pregnant school staff, to listen to their legitimate concerns, and to ensure that these women and their pregnancies are kept safe.
Teachta Ó Laoghaire said
“I listened to the Minister address the concerns of pregnant unvaccinated school staff this morning on Morning Ireland, and frankly, she was incoherent. She advised of the pregnancy related sick leave scheme, but these women are not sick, they are pregnant.
“This scheme was not designed for this purpose, it is for women who fall sick while pregnant. Many staff were listening and in this situation, will be reluctant to use this scheme given that ordinarily there could be disciplinary issues with using the scheme for a purpose that was not intended.
“To avail of this, they would have to be certified by a doctor as unfit for work, which isn’t the case – they wish to work but work remotely and safely. This is unfair on the women and indeed on the doctors too.
“I have spoken to many pregnant school staff, who have shared their concerns about the return to school in the next week. Many of these women are understandably very anxious and worried. They feel like their concerns have been ignored by the Minister and her Department.
“It is crucial that pregnant school staff have absolute confidence in their safety when they do return to the school setting.
“Flexibility and understanding must be shown, particularly for staff who are under 14 weeks and are not able to get the vaccine at present.
“Many teachers and SNAs I have spoken with can’t understand why, when flexible working arrangements were extended to them in the last school year, these have been bluntly removed with very little consideration given to their worries and vulnerability.
“Before too long, most staff will be fully vaccinated in advance of becoming pregnant. Flexibility must be shown to those women who are stuck in a limbo, who are unable to get fully vaccinated and protect themselves before they are expected to return to the workplace.
“I have written to the Minister a number of times, seeking the guidance upon which the guidelines for pregnant staff’s return to school are based, as well as the most up-to-date guidance on the risks for pregnant staff in school settings. I have heard nothing from the Minister in return.
“Her response to this issue is not good enough. Given the fact that this is a limited number of staff in question, and that in future most pregnant women will have been vaccinated in advance, this should not be difficult to solve. These women need to be protected in terms of their health and in protecting them from pregnancy loss.”