Secondary school teachers who are members of the ASTI trade union have voted in favour of industrial action, up to and including strike action, unless the Government immediately addresses a number of key Covid related issues in schools.

In a ballot that posed a number of questions, ASTI teachers voted in favour of action on a number of issues.

They included seeking a redefinition of what constitutes a close contact in the classroom; Covid test turnaround times of 24 hours; serial testing for schools; the provision of free laptops for students and teachers; provision to allow teachers in the high-risk health category to teach from home or have accommodations made in school; and equal pay for teachers employed after 2010.

Members rejected proposals for potential industrial action on several other grounds.

These included in a demand for physical distancing of two metres in every classroom; the provision of free high quality masks to all students and teachers; and on guaranteed offers of permanent full-time contracts to any teacher returning to the system.

In a separate ballot, which was a rerun of a vote that was under way when schools shut suddenly in March, ASTI members voted in favour of industrial action up to and including strike action in pursuit of pay equality.

The ballot stipulated that such action should be taken in conjunction with at least one other teachers' union.

Commenting on the outcome, ASTI President Ann Piggott said members were clearly stating that they want schools to remain open for students.

"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'."

ASTI members also voted not to accept unilateral decisions by some schools to implement changes to working conditions without consultation with teaching staff.

"Teachers are unwavering in their commitment to providing a quality education and to supporting their students at this stressful and uncertain time," Ms Piggott said.

"However, the ASTI will not countenance exploitative attempts to introduce unnecessary work changes without consensus which have a further negative impact on teachers' work and workload".

Commenting on the separate ballot on equal pay, she said ASTI members remained absolutely committed to achieving equal pay for teachers who entered the profession from 2010.

Industrial action 'a last resort'

The ASTI General Secretary has said industrial action would be very much a last resort. 

Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, Kieran Christie said "there will be no kneejerk reactions" and their Executive will be meeting in the next couple of days and will consider all aspects of these matters.  

He said the union was assured following talks with the Department of Education and NPHET, that the authorities are working on their requests, which include the re-enforcement of school teams and a faster reply from contact tracing teams, and he said the intention is to have these issues dealt with by Monday. 

He said the union is mandated by its members to seek serial testing be conducted in schools and that tests are conducted quickly and the results come back within 24 hours. He said "the sustainability of keeping schools open hinges very much on efficiency with regard to those matters". 

He said the Department of Education and the Government can't say their priority is to keep schools open and then not resource that. He said "what we need is a system which is agile and which can respond in the correct fashion whenever there are outbreaks".