Second-level teachers have voted for industrial action over safety concerns and pay in schools following their reopening during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) have voted to take action unless the Government “immediately addresses” concerns over Covid-19 safety in schools.
The union is calling for a comprehensive testing programme and additional learning supports where schools are forced to close.
However, it has insisted strike action would be a “last resort” and that teachers want schools to remain open.
Union president Ann Piggott said: “ASTI members are clearly stating that they want schools to remain open for students during this pandemic.
“They are demanding that the Government step up and provide 24-hour test turnaround, a redefinition of close contacts for school settings, a comprehensive testing programme, and appropriate arrangements for teachers categorised as ‘high risk’.
“We must be supported in sustaining education for our children and young people.”
ASTI members have mandated the union to pursue a range of issues. These include the provision of IT resources for students and teachers to facilitate continuity of learning.
A ballot of 6,759 members returned a vote of 5,359 in favour of the measures and 1,400 against, with a turnout of 42 per cent.
Labour education spokesman Aodhan O Riordain said the vote was a “wake-up call” for Government.
One issue voted on as part of a series of ballots was whether to take industrial action on the long-running issue of lower pay rates in place for more recent entrants to the profession, according to the Irish Times.
Another issue on which ASTI members were asked to ballot was on how the union should respond to unilateral changes to work practices in some schools without consultation.
The ballot for industrial action up to and including strike action closed last week, with the ASTI starting to count the ballots on Wednesday.
Following a meeting of its central executive committee in September, the ASTI said members had serious concerns about a number of matters as teaching was resumed.
The union said these concerns included physical distancing in schools, the provision of personal protective equipment and the definition of close contacts.
Concerns also included comprehensive testing and testing turnaround times, provisions for teachers considered to be in high-risk categories and IT resources to allow for remote teaching and learning.
In response to the ASTI’s concerns, public health authorities prepared a document saying they believe that fewer than 10 schools in the Republic have experienced significant transmission of Covid-19.
The briefing document prepared by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) and the Health Protection Surveillance Centre says very few schools are likely to have had “intraschool transmission” or cases spread within schools.
While there have been a total of 110 recorded clusters or outbreaks detected in schools since they reopened in late August, authorities say transmission in most cases is likely to have happened outside school settings.