Teachers Conference: Teachers want paid leave for assaults by pupils

Teachers have been head-butted, kicked, punched, spat at, and suffered broken bones as attacks in the classroom become more frequent and violent.

Teachers Conference: Teachers want paid leave for assaults by pupils

The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) has warned that the assaults are becoming more serious, with teachers being hospitalised in some cases.

Tracey Whyte, a teacher at a special school in Dublin, told the annual congress that so far this year, six of her colleagues have been seriously assaulted in 60 separate incidents, and she has personally suffered more than 20 physical assaults.

“I have been headbutted in the face on more than one occasion, punched in the nose and face, received a kick to the head more than once, been thumped on my arms, kicked in the legs, and repeatedly punched in the stomach.

"Children have spat in my face repeatedly,” she said. “I’ve been charged at with the fire extinguisher and had the fire extinguisher thrown at me. As shocking as this is, believe it or not, I still love my job.”

Speaking in support of a motion to implement paid assault leave, she said attacks in schools are “expected and accepted”, yet teachers who have been assaulted are told they have to be back in work the next day or take time out of their sick leave.

“Nobody deserves to be physically assaulted. However, the greater insult is that when I’m assaulted I have to use my own personal sick leave.

“I was not sick. In fact, I was assaulted in the workplace. This is not the same thing. I want it classified from the beginning that it is assault leave and to be recognised as that.”

Cathal McGarrigle, from the Dublin City South East branch of the INTO, proposed the motion.

“Nobody should be assaulted in the workplace. If it happens, procedures should be put in place to make sure it does not happen again. These attacks have had a detrimental impact on both the physical and mental health of teachers,” he said.

“There needs to be a clear distinction between being off sick or missing what may amount to a significant amount of time due to a workplace assault.”

Mr McGarrigle called for the union’s central executive committee to immediately negotiate this position, urging industrial action to be used as a threat if the issue is not addressed. “Industrial action comes in many forms. It does not simply mean strike,” he said.

“We need to arm our representation when they go to the table to negotiate on our behalf. A weapon, quite often, does not have to be used, it simply means you’re taken more seriously and that people actually listen when you speak up.”

Deirdre Cronin from the Dublin City South West branch seconded the motion, stressing that other areas of the public sector already have provisions in place to deal with assault leave.

“Paid assault leave is only granted when teachers’ entitlement to paid sick leave is exhausted. This is not acceptable,” she said.

“HSE employees currently have access to a serious physical assault scheme which does not affect sick leave entitlements.

“It is absolutely incumbent upon us as a union to fight tooth and nail to ensure that assault leave is a separate category and those who experience this trauma in work are not further traumatised through having, at a later date, to present evidence and seek retrospective recognition for what they have gone through.”

The motion was passed.

In 2012, an INTO survey revealed 20% of principals and 18% of teachers had been subjected to physical assaults at work. Verbal assaults were experienced by 54% of principals and 39% of teachers. The study found most physical attacks were by pupils, while most verbal assaults were by adults.

Further research, carried out by IMPACT, reported that almost 60% of SNAs were assaulted by children with whom they worked. Some 12% of these were classed as serious assaults.

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