'The rug has been pulled out': Teachers agree campaign on vaccine priority

Schools could face potential disruption over the coming months as teachers consider industrial action
'The rug has been pulled out': Teachers agree campaign on vaccine priority

Additional reporting by Cate McCurry, PA

Ireland’s three teachers’ unions have agreed to a joint motion backing measures up to industrial action if their members are not prioritised for Covid-19 vaccination.

The Irish Times reports that the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) and the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) confirmed the emergency motion will be placed before their annual conferences on Wednesday.

In a joint statement, the three unions said: “The motion will seek to commit the unions to work together to demand vaccine prioritisation for teachers. Should that fail, the motion will mandate the unions to explore any and all options, up to and including industrial action.”

While unions have said that any industrial action will not affect the planned reopening of schools on April 12th, it could disrupt the current academic year at primary level or the new school year in September at secondary level.

The INTO is understood to be pushing for potential industrial action in May or June. Secondary teachers’ unions are reluctant to disrupt the Leaving Cert and say any action would likely be early in the new academic year.

'Rug pulled out'

Addressing members at a virtual event on Tuesday morning, INTO president Mary Magner called for the Minister for Education to announce a U-turn on the revised priority list.

“Colleagues, I hadn’t expected to have to talk to you about vaccine prioritisation,” she said.

“We had a promise from the Government we took in good faith. However, the rug has been pulled out from under us.”

Ms Magner also told delegates that the future of teaching needed “a different vision”.

“Never again should our education budget be subject to the tokenism of election promises or necessitate the yearly ‘buy-in’ of the electorate,” she said.

“The Government was fond of throwing EU stats at us during the crisis, when comparing us with countries that had reopened earlier than us. Let me throw some stats back.

“When it comes to spending and investment in education, as a percentage of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), Sweden spends some 6.9 per cent, Denmark 6.3 per cent and Belgium 6.2 per cent. In the same year, 2019, Ireland lagged abysmally behind, at a mere 3.1 per cent.

“Our new normal must make education the bedrock of our society and fund it, on par with our European neighbours. GDP spend should rightly be earmarked on a multi-annual basis, to guarantee minimum investment levels, as we rebuild, post-pandemic.”

Resisting pressure

The Government is resisting pressure to move teachers up Ireland's vaccination priority list, following its decision last week to proceed on the basis of age rather than prioritise key workers.

Senior Government sources have indicated that a reversal of the revised priority list is unlikely, with several saying the new list is the “fastest and fairest way” to roll out vaccines.

According to senior coalition sources, many other groups of essential workers have worked throughout the pandemic and could make claims for early vaccination if the Government bows to teachers’ demands.

Teachers’ unions, along with representative bodies for gardaí, want the Government to introduce a parallel vaccination process which would see those in frontline professions receive their vaccines in parallel to the general public.

A spokesman for Minister for Education Norma Foley – who is due to address the INTO on Tuesday – said it remained her position that the vaccination programme should be guided by public health experts.

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