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ASTI to ballot for industrial action over Covid-19 safety concerns

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The main trade union for secondary school teachers says it will ballot for industrial action over concerns it has over the safety of staff.

The central executive committee of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) said in met on Saturday and decided to ballot its members in relation to a number of “key issues” which had emerged since schools reopened.

It said ASTI members had serious concerns about the health and safety of school communities. Issues raised include physical distancing in schools, provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), the definition of close contacts, testing and testing turnaround times, provisions for high risk teachers , and information technology resources for students and teachers to facilitate remote teaching and learning.

“The fact that high risk teachers have been asked to work in crowded classroom is unacceptable to us as a trade union,” ASTI president Ann Piggott said in a statement.

“The safety of students and their teachers must be the priority.”

Ms Piggott said teachers were reporting that new work practices were being implemented without any consultation with school staff.

“It is unthinkable that at a time when teachers have demonstrated tremendous commitment to their students and to keeping education going, that schools would introduce work changes which have a further negative impact on teachers’ working lives. This smacks of crisis opportunism and cannot go unchallenged.”

The ASTI said the ballot would also cover the difficulties faced by returning teachers who were “being forced to work precarious contacts” and those enduring unequal pay.

Second level schools reopened at the start of September after being closed since mid-March as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Friday public health doctors who are to the forefront in the fight against Covid-19 said they would ballot for industrial action before Christmas if the Government did not resolve a pay issue .

There are also growing tensions between health service trade unions and the HSE over redeployment and working arrangements.

Last week, health service trade unions told the HSE that an overall agreement reached earlier this year to facilitate the re-deployment of staff as part of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic was “null and void”.

Unions said they would engage with health service management about individual or collective re-deployment of members on a case- by- case basis.

“However, that engagement is conditional on the HSE demonstrating a commitment to appropriate, full, and meaningful engagement and consultation on all matters.”

The letter sent this week shows further strains in the relationship between health service unions and management over what they see as a lack of consultation on a number of issues.

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