The Department of Education is being urged to urgently engage with the ASTI in order to avert industrial action.
The call to action was made by Cork Sinn Féin TD and party spokesperson on Education, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD following the announcement that the ASTI are to ballot their members for industrial action.
The ASTI Central Executive Committee said it has decided to ballot its members in relation to a number of key issues that have emerged since schools re-opened including physical distancing in schools, provision of PPE, comprehensive testing and testing turnaround times as well as provisions for high-risk teachers.
Cork-based ASTI President Ann Piggott said: “The fact that high-risk teachers have been asked to work in crowded classrooms is unacceptable to us as a trade union. The safety of students and their teachers must be the priority.”
The ASTI ballot will also cover the difficulties faced by returning teachers who are being forced to work precarious contracts and those enduring unequal pay.
Deputy Ó Laoghaire said the issues that the ASTI have raised "are issues that can and must be" resolved. "Sinn Féin identified the need to apply effective social distancing and protect school staff at high-risk as key priorities in a document we submitted to the Department of Education two weeks ago called 'Keeping Schools Open'."
The Cork TD said the document proposed an audit of school buildings to identify schools under the most pressure to achieve social distancing and proposed a fund for schools to build, acquire modular units, or rent space to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio.
"The fact is that reopening schools safely has been challenging because we have an education system that is overcrowded, underfunded and understaffed.”
In terms of high-risk staff, Deputy O’Laoghaire said it was unconscionable that people are working in an environment where they don’t feel safe.
"These issues have been on the agenda for weeks now. It is unacceptable that the Department of Education has allowed things to get to this point; with the ASTI now seeing no alternative but to ballot their members for industrial action.
"I absolutely believe that a strike can be avoided, but the government now needs to take action. They need to engage urgently with the ASTI and other school staff unions (INTO, TUI and Fórsa) to address the issues that have been raised."