Union action necessary for the security of the Covid

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Le Socialiste January 6, 2022 |
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Stephen Brown, Socialist Party of Oxford and member of the NEU

At the dawn of a new year and a new term, teachers are still unimpressed by the performance of the Ministry of Education. Around the same time last year, school staff collectively used section 44 of the Employment Rights Act to refuse to go to unsafe workplaces, and schools were threatened with legal action for closure. due to the ever-increasing number of staff absences, only for the government to announce a second full lockdown just a day after returning in January.

As schools reeled around Christmas this year, it all felt like Groundhog Day. There is compelling evidence that schools are not safe. The Office for National Statistics said that in November, teachers were 37% more likely to catch Covid than other workers.

Few teachers will be surprised by this or by the fact that at the same time, more than 200,000 students were absent due to Covid. With Omicron said to be three times more transmissible than Delta, and siblings of infected students expected to continue attending school, teachers will continue to be at higher risk than most.

In what we expected, the government intervention came a day or two before the schools reopened, leaving school leaders little time to implement changes. But, in reality, it all comes down to face masks in high school classrooms (something that many schools have already implemented due to outbreaks), combining classrooms that have been affected by outbreaks ( super-spreading events waiting to occur) and 7,000 air filters for classrooms.

As many have pointed out, all classrooms in England could be fitted with air purifiers to dramatically reduce the spread of Covid, at the cost of half a royal yacht. The promised 7,000 air filters amount to about one for every 40 classrooms, and they’re unlikely to be with us until February.

Meanwhile, the National Education Union (NEU) has pointed out that the situation is likely to worsen until January. The school leaders’ union, NAHT, pleaded with government ministers to do better. But the time for worries and implorations is now over. It’s time for teacher unions to stand up for the health and safety of teachers who are put at risk every day, in poorly ventilated rooms, full of potentially infected children, with only a paper face mask to protect themselves.

The NEU has issued Covid safety guidelines, including isolating siblings from those who test positive, staggered start times and CO2 monitoring. But the national union must be clear: if a school does not follow union guidelines, it will fully support the local union members in the action necessary to win.

Teachers across the country will face whatever happens in January with the same dedication they have shown throughout the pandemic. “Blended learning” may well be the order of the day, with doors and windows open. The hope is that soon it will be this government, riddled with incompetence, callousness and corruption, that will be out in the cold.


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