Union says exempting education staff from isolation rules is ‘a public policy failure’

Union says exempting education staff from isolation rules is ‘a public policy failure’

by Freya Lucas

January 14, 2022

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement that staff in schools, early childhood centres and post-secondary colleges are exempt from COVID isolation rules “is an abject failure of public policy”, IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Acting Secretary Pam Smith said, critical that neither the state nor federal government consulted with the union before making this decision.

 

The NSW/ACT based Union represents more than 30,000 educators in NSW and the ACT, and said that the decision “could have disastrous consequences” and result in more closures and disruptions in education settings – the opposite of its purported intention.

 

Under the directive made in yesterday’s announcement, certain groups of employees, including those working in early childhood education and care (ECEC) were directed to continue to work, even if they are close contacts of someone with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19.

Effectively, this means someone who is sharing living space with another person with COVID-19 can come to work with children each day, a decision which the Union says jeopardises many. 

 

IEU Vice President Early Childhood Services Gabrielle Connell said early childhood teachers are fearful they will be in close contact with children and families as well as co-workers who may be positive or close contacts of positive people. “We may not only catch COVID but take it home to our families,” Ms Connell said.

 

“We have all been thrown under the bus and the government is trying to deal with the situation through Band-Aid solutions, and early childhood teachers are being treated as dispensable objects. We are angry and disillusioned as well as exhausted.”

 

The decision, Ms Smith added, means that educators will be forced to work knowing either that they are a close contact and could infect others or that they are working with close contacts and could get infected and carry the illness to their own families, something which will add to the current level of anxiety in the sector.

 

“Watering down work health and safety provisions in the third year of the pandemic because the government failed to plan is unacceptable,” she continued, and leave those affected with many questions, including how staff will access rapid-antigen tests, who will pay for them, and how testing will be administered and monitored. 

 

Thus far, she continued, the Prime Minister has been short on detail about this crucial issue, saying only that “surveillance testing” for education staff was an “ongoing discussion.”

 

“The IEU opposes any weakening of WHS rights – for our members and for every other employee and industry on the isolation-exempt list. A healthy workforce means a healthy economy – not the other way around,” Ms Smith added.

 

To access the full details of the National Cabinet decision see here

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