Education Minister Norma Foley is under pressure to deliver a U-turn on teacher Covid vaccinations today – or face possible strike action in schools within weeks.
he minister’s first address to a teacher union conference is a high stakes affair.
Delegates at the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) convention, where she is due to speak at 3pm, and teachers everywhere, will be waiting to see if she signals a rethink on their placing on the vaccination schedule.
If not, leaders of all three teacher unions will be putting down emergency motions, for discussion tomorrow, seeking ballots for industrial action up to and including strike.
The annual conferences of the INTO, the Association of Secondary Teachers’ Ireland (ASTI) and Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) are taking place virtually, starting today.
Ms Foley is also due to address the TUI conference tomorrow.
The final detail of any industrial action that may be approved by the conferences would be decided later, but the intention is that it would happen in the upcoming term.
There is no threat to the reopening of schools next Monday – when all classes are due to return for the first time since Christmas – and any action would also have to be supported by ballots of union members.
However, union leaders report high levels of anger among their members arising from the Government decision last week to change the vaccine prioritisation schedule, leaving them in no doubt about support in a ballot.
The timescale for any action is tight, with second-level schools due to wrap up before the end of May.
Previously, teachers were in a specific category, which put them in the first 30pc of the population to be inoculated, but that changed radically with last week’s announcement of a switch to an age-based list.
The Government agreed to the change in prioritisation, based on recommendations from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) and the public health advisory body, Nphet, knowing there would be a backlash from teachers. Garda representatives are also angry that they have been pushed down the list.
Teacher union leaders say staff in special schools and special classes feel particularly aggrieved as HSE staff who work with their pupils, such as physiotherapists and occupational therapists, have been vaccinated.
Prioritising age ahead of certain occupational groupings has led to concerns among younger teachers, who dominate the profession, that they will be waiting until the autumn for their jabs.
If the Cabinet decides to yield to the pressure, it is unclear exactly what formula it would have to come up with to appease union leaders and their members.
TUI general secretary Michael Gillespie said one suggestion was for a schedule that would allow all teachers have their two vaccination jabs, plus a 14 day period after the second one, before schools reopen in September.
INTO general secretary John Boyle said there was scope for “creative solutions”.
But any concession to teachers would put the Government under pressure to restore gardaí to a priority position on the list.
Source: Irish News