Fórsa advises on schools re-opening

Fórsa has made a submission to advise the Department of Education and Skills on contingency planning arrangements for the 2020/21 school year.

The submission was made last Wednesday (13th May) as the Taoiseach announced that “among the safest things” the State can do in the next few months is to reopen schools for children.

The union’s submission highlights the specific concerns of Fórsa members working across the education sector in higher education, Education and Training Boards and the schools sector.

The union’s submission highlights the specific concerns of Fórsa members working across the education sector in higher education, Education and Training Boards and the schools sector.

It calls for strict adherence to the requirements set out in the ‘Return to Work Safely Protocol‘ published last weekend, and says “genuine consultation between management and staff will be key to the successful management of re-opening the education sector.”

Fórsa’s head of Education Andy Pike said the union’s primary concern relates to funding as the safety obligations will pose specific resource based challenges for schools and colleges of all sizes. “There are many requirements for premises to be altered and made safe to protect against the transmission of Covid-19, and these cannot be adequately funded from existing resources. Employers will need additional resources and budgets to enable them to re-open in safe manner,” he said.

Resource requirements identified in the submission include hand-washing facilities, appropriate screening of office and reception areas, and the specialised task of deep cleaning education premises. The union said employers should not attempt to redeploy staff for deep cleaning.

Fórsa also highlighted the need for stakeholder engagement on a range of issues including:

  • Health and safety guidance and risk assessment
  • Facilitating remote working options for staff with childcare responsibilities in the event that childcare facilities have not fully reopened
  • Clear hand hygiene protocols based on existing guidance as applicable to staff and students including, if necessary, infrastructural improvements for the availability of hot water
  • Advice of occupational health services
  • The provision of the occupational health and employee assistance service on an ‘all school’ basis, because school secretaries and caretakers working in independent schools do not normally have access to the employee assistance service that is made available to teachers and other public servants
  • The extent to which Covid-19 testing can be made available for staff and students prior to a return to the workplace should be assessed closer to the re-opening date.
  • The Fórsa submission calls for the establishment of consultation fora involving recognised unions to develop plans to deal with the threat of Covid-19. It states that measures such as mandatory temperature checks or the wearing of masks “should only be introduced on the basis of national public health advice and must be clearly communicated prior to implementation” and that “effective monitoring and evaluation of social distancing measures and other safety protocols will be important if workplaces are to operate safely.”

Andy said the work of SNAs and teachers needs to be carefully considered as normal practice would involve close physical proximity in many instances: “Specific guidance will be required on this and we’ve suggested that consultation should now commence on the work of SNAs, in order to develop national guidance on this matter in advance of the re-opening of the schools sector,” he said.

On annual leave, the union’s submission says normal leave arrangements in the higher education and ETB sectors should now be reviewed, with a greater number of days available for carry over as an exceptional measure.

Read the full submission HERE.

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