Teachers' unions have pledged to push for strike action if Government does not agree to prioritise their members for Covid-19 vaccination by the end of the current school year.
The move comes after an agreed motion which is being placed before the annual conference of the three teachers' unions on Wednesday.
Delegates at the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) voted in favour of a motion this morning, while it is still being discussed by the Association of Secondary Teachers’ Ireland (ASTI).
The motion commits to a ballot for industrial action “up to and including strike action”, if the Government does not agree to prioritise teachers before the end of June.
The move means the current school year should not be impacted, and that any strike action would take place in the next school year.
However, public health officials say all adults will be vaccinated by September, so this means any industrial action is doubtful.
The motion demands that the Government “re-instates education staff as a priority group within the national vaccination programme”.
It highlights the essential work of teachers, adding that it requires daily contact with a large amount of people from different households.
Minister for Education Norma Foley has again defended the decision to change the vaccination programme from a priority list to an age based scheme.
Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland, Ms Foley said that it had “never been in the gift” of the Department of Education or of any politician to make a promise on the vaccination programme.
The vaccination list was compiled by National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) and was “100 per cent independent of Government”.
The Minister pointed out that “the science” last December had put the education sector in the “first third” of those to be vaccinated. It had subsequently emerged that the chief concern was that age was the strongest predictor.
The science was very clear, she added. This was not a value judgement on any profession. “It is simply the science that is available to us now.”
At every step we indicated that we would accept and adopt the science when it was presented to us.
When asked about the pledge that had been made to teachers prior to the return to school earlier this year, Ms Foley said that her department had engaged with the Department of Health and had accepted at every stage that the actions of NIAC were independent and based on science.
“At every step we indicated that we would accept and adopt the science when it was presented to us.”
NIAC had been very clear that age was the basis of the greatest vulnerability and that the older should be catered for first. Dealing with Covid was a learning curve, she said.
The Minister said she accepted that teachers were disappointed in the change in the vaccine schedule, but she felt many accepted the science and that the priority must be the most vulnerable.