Irish Examiner view: Teachers' strike threat is wrong

Whenever unions perceive a problem that may affect their members, they tend to signal industrial action all too early in the proceedings
Irish Examiner view: Teachers' strike threat is wrong

Education Minister Norma Foley addressing delegates at the Irish National Teachers' Organisation's virtual congress this week. Picture: Moya Nolan

Whenever teacher unions perceive a problem that may affect their members — be it over pay, conditions, or Covid — they tend to signal industrial action all too early in the proceedings. 

Signs being that the ASTI, TUI, and INTO have voted for a motion backing industrial action, up to and including strike, if teachers are not prioritised for vaccination.

This threat is likely to be an empty one. Any action would likely be for the next school year, by which time most adults and teachers would be vaccinated.

That teachers are asking to be vaccinated in parallel with the most vulnerable, misses the point. As our knowledge of the pandemic has improved, the advice has changed. This has caused confusion and hurt and communication in this country has been poor, leaving teachers, like all of us, aggrieved. 

But if we now know that age is the single ‘strongest predictor’ of whether Covid-19 will force someone to be admitted to hospital or ICU or cause death, there is no option for the government, which must focus on vaccinating people quickly, in order of age.

While there is a strong case to be made for vaccinating as a priority staff in special schools and those working in special classrooms because of their heightened vulnerability, the biggest predictor of death remains age.

The unions have plenty to justifiably complain about, not least the lack of a proper ventilation strategy for classrooms, given the effect it would have of reducing risk and longer-term benefits for staff and pupils alike. They should use what they see as broken vaccine promises to negotiate better commitments elsewhere.

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