Coronavirus: Teachers will not be redeployed to help health service, unions say

Department says main focus of staff in education sector is delivering tuition to students

Teachers’ unions say they do not expect members will be redeployed to assist with health services. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Teachers’ unions say they do not expect members will be redeployed to assist with health services. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

Teachers’ unions say they do not expect members will be redeployed to assist with health services as part of the Government’s efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

In a circular to school managers last week, the Department of Education said public servants “must be available to carry out work either to deliver services within their own sector (as a priority) or for temporary assignment within the wider public service” amid the Covid-19 outbreak.

It added that employers will be asked to determine which of their employees will provide educational services to their pupils during this process.

In a statement to The Irish Times on Tuesday evening, the department added that the “primary focus of staff in the education and training sector is on continuing to deliver tuition to all students”.

The country’s largest teachers’ union, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), said on Tuesday that it does not expect that teachers will be called to work elsewhere due to their obligations to students.

“Throughout the course of the last week, in numerous interactions with the Department of Education and Skills, they have made it clear that the primary objective of teachers should be the facilitation of their pupils learning,” said John Boyle, INTO general secretary.

“While we appreciate some of our members will wish to volunteer and support their communities, during this period, their first duty will remain to their student body. Education is an essential service for our students.”

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) also said the department gave it a “clear understanding” that teachers will not be among those reassigned, as they are involved in supporting students.

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) said it was awaiting full details from the department, but also said it expected that “most teachers will not be affected” by redeployment.

Special needs assistants

It is likely that special needs assistants (SNAs) will make up the bulk of any temporary redeployment of school staff.

There are about 15,000 SNAs employed in the education sector who are not in a position to work due to school closures, which are likely to continue until at least May or June as part of efforts to halt the progress of Covid-19.

Some school management sources said a small number of teaching staff – such as those in the further education sector with particular expertise in areas of health – may also be redeployed.

Fórsa, the trade union which represents SNAs, said the department has confirmed that its members may be reassigned to other posts as part of a public-service-wide mobilisation to tackle the virus and maintain essential public services.

The plans allow for the temporary transfer of staff to critical roles for up to three months.

The union said more than 1,000 public servants and part-time semi-State workers have already been temporarily reallocated to “essential coronavirus-related work” such as contact tracing. It said more reallocations were expected in the coming days.

In new advice issued to 80,000 members on Tuesday, meanwhile, Fórsa has said members should stay away from workplaces on public health grounds unless their employer has told them they need to attend work.

Until now, the union has advised staff to go in unless told otherwise.

The union said that much of the dust had settled since the Taoiseach’s “stay at home” announcement last Friday and that most employers have now given clear direction to staff on this issue.

However, it has also warned staff that the instructions from their managers may change, and they should attend work if their presence is deemed essential.

Large numbers of public servants and semi-State staff continue to attend workplaces to provide essential services. This includes virtually all workers in the health and social care sectors, and almost two-thirds of social welfare staff.