The government has to “step up to the plate” and deliver a competent back-to-school package of measures, the country's biggest secondary teachers’ union has warned.
Kieran Christie, ASTI General Secretary, said members are “extremely worried” about returning to work and there must be “no compromise on safety”.
His remarks were delivered just hours after Taoiseach Micheál Martin committed to having schools reopened by the end of August, with a comprehensive plan due to come before Cabinet on Monday.
In an address to members during today’s remote ASTI convention, Mr Christie said he has provided education chiefs with a “large shopping list” of measures to be implemented and which must be backed by “comprehensive investment”.
He warned the Government’s July Stimulus Package capital allocation of €42m for post-primary schools to carry out Covid-19 “reconfiguration works” won’t be enough.
“I suspect they will have to dig deeper,” he said.
Mr Christie caused a stir when he told a recent Dáil committee that classrooms "would be empty" in September because the union's members would not return unless safe to do so. He reiterated these comments in the address.
“From an ASTI perspective, an immutable truth is that in each and every instance in our schools upon reopening, the health advice provided by the Health Authorities must be implemented in full and at all times,” he said.
“The beginning, the middle and the end of all this is that our members, together with their students and everyone in our school communities, must be entirely safe.
“I was asked recently at a hearing of the Dáil Covid-19 Committee what a standard classroom with 30 students, two special needs assistants, and a teacher would look like in September. I responded that it would look empty because it would not be tolerated by ASTI. I repeat that message here.
“I have no doubt that some of what emerges in terms of the arrangements for reopening of schools will not be entirely to our liking but there can be no compromising on the health of teachers and students.
“Schools will have to be Covid-19 secure workplaces.”
Mr Christie also told members that the issues which they were concerned about before Covid-19 remain a priority, including low pay and pensions.
There was the “on-going row” about the timing of Subject Learning and Assessment Review (SLAR) meetings.
He assured members that "the issues are not going away".
“You can rest assured we in the ASTI will continue to pursue each and every one of them as time progresses.”
He also clarified that ASTI is still concerned with the issues around the Public Services Stability Agreement (PSSA), which ends this year, and said the union will keep the issue of unequal pay on the agenda.
“We will defend our members from any attacks on their conditions of service and we will seek to ensure pay will be advanced and protected. One thing is for sure - we will not be taken for granted," he said.