Teachers’ unions have voted to hold ballots for strike action if the Government refuses to make a U-turn on its decision not to prioritise teachers for the Covid-19 vaccine.
The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (Asti), the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (Into) and TUI passed a motion at its respective annual congresses condemning the recent changed to the priority list.
The Government confirmed the vaccination programme will be based on an age-basis rather than occupation.
In a joint statement, the teachers’ unions urged the Government to “immediately reinstate” education staff as a priority group within the national vaccination programme.
📣Teacher unions pass emergency motions demanding teacher vaccination: (Thread) - Earlier this morning, the three teaching unions, @astiunion, INTO & @TUIunion passed a joint motion at their respective Easter congresses... pic.twitter.com/ql6njocAmf— INTO (Irish National Teachers' Organisation) (@INTOnews) April 7, 2021
It highlighted teachers’ daily contact with a large number of people from different households as well as social distancing issues in the classroom.
The statement added: “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 themKieran Christie
“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.”
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.”
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.
'Abnormally large class sizes' made Ireland's return to schools after COVID-19 a much more difficult task. Underfunding must finally be addressed - Martin Marjoram #TUI21— Teachers' Union Ire. (@TUIunion) April 7, 2021
“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.”
Taoiseach Micheal Martin said the decision was based on science, adding that age is a key factor in the risks associated with coronavirus.
“The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) is clear on that, the (acting) CMO (chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn) is very clear on that.
“They have been strong and comprehensive in terms of the data and research that underpins the decision.
“This is not a reflection on any one profession and we are in the middle of global pandemic and decisions like this have to be made in the overall common good.”
Meanwhile, Dr Glynn met with the general secretaries of the Association of Garda Chief Superintendents, the Association of Garda Superintendents, the Association of Garda Sergeants & Inspectors, and the Garda Representative Association on Wednesday morning.
In a joint statement, the general secretaries said: “What is clear to all garda associations after this meeting is that it is solely a Government decision to move to an age-based vaccination system, and as the representatives of the majority of workers in the garda organisation, we will continue to advocate to Government to vaccinate all members of An Garda Siochana as a matter of urgency.”