‘Schools are safe’ was the catch-cry of 2020, but it no longer holds up. The Delta variant of COVID-19, with which NSW is currently doing battle, is highly transmissible among children.
The Independent Education Union of Australia (IEU) welcomes the new hubs set up to vaccinate teachers and aged care workers in South-West Sydney. The IEU also reiterates its call for all teachers and support staff to be included in the priority group for vaccination. The next step is for employers to enable high levels of vaccination across the community by providing paid vaccination leave for all frontline employees – including teachers and school support staff in early childhood education, primary schools and secondary schools.
“The notion that schools operate in a vacuum needs to be dispelled,” IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Secretary Mark Northam said. The IEU represents teachers and support staff in the non-government education sector. In the lead-up to the recent NSW school holidays, at least four Sydney schools had students test positive for the virus.
“Schools are complex and demanding workplaces that thrive on certainty – but a rapidly transmissible virus does not permit certainty,” Northam said. “The IEU supports its members gaining ready access to vaccination. A pandemic cannot be managed by desperately trying to book a vaccination appointment before or after work – it’s completely unreasonable. It’s time for employers to step up and support their staff by providing paid vaccination leave.”
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) is pressing to have paid vaccination leave included in the National Employment Standards, making it the right of every worker in Australia.
As economist and journalist Ross Gittins noted in the Sydney Morning Herald (14/7/2021), “Prosperity isn’t much use if you’re dead – which many business people and lobby groups don’t get in the pandemic.” Yet vaccination benefits business – a healthy, vaccinated workforce takes far less sick leave. A little paid vaccination leave now will save no end of sick leave later. It’s a win-win.
While the professionals who run schools are enormously capable of dealing with disruptions, schools simply cannot do “business as usual” while teachers and support staff attend vaccination appointments. Schools can still operate but, like everything else in the pandemic, they’ll be operating a little differently.
“Keeping our schools safe means making sure all teachers and support staff are vaccinated,” Northam said. “The IEU urges all employers in the sector to enable this through paid vaccination leave.”