Unite the union, which represents large numbers of support staff and teaching assistants, has added its voice to the call for all schools to be shut for most pupils, due to the huge rise in Covid-19 infections and in pledging support for school workers who remove themselves from danger.

Workers health not compromised

The union recognises that schools will need to remain open for vulnerable children and the children of key workers. This will require Unite members to continue to work in schools and the union is demanding that their health is in no way compromised as they continue to provide an essential frontline service.

Minimum safety standards

As a minimum to ensure safety Unite is demanding that:

  • All school staff are regularly tested
  • Staff only operate in a Covid-secure environment
  • Schools thoroughly update risk assessments and staff are fully consulted during this process and are able to easily access a copy.

In addition school staff, like all workers, have the right under sections 44 and 100 of the Employment Rights Act, in cases of “serious and imminent danger”, to remove themselves from the workplace until the matter is resolved. 

Unite recognises how difficult it is for school staff to utilise this right and is advising them that they should immediately inform the school’s management about any safety concerns and if the matter is not immediately resolved to contact their regional officer for further advice.

Government handling lamentable 

Unite officer with national responsibility for school support staff Caren Evans said: “It is quite clear that in order to protect the public and reduce the rapid rise of Covid, all schools should remain closed for most children.

“The way in which the government has once again mishandled this matter is lamentable. 

“Unite is working with all our sister unions representing the whole school community to ensure clarity which has been sadly lacking from government whose bumbling has been a national disgrace.

“Clearly vulnerable children and the children of key workers will need to attend school and teaching assistants and support staff play a vital role in ensuring these children are properly cared for.

“However, the health of all workers in schools must not be compromised and the government must ensure that all school staff are regularly tested.

“It is imperative on every school to immediately introduce measures to ensure the Covid-security of all staff.”

Workers' right to protect themselves

Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “If the health of workers is being immediately placed at risk then they have an absolute legal right to remove themselves from danger.

“If the safety concerns of our members are not immediately acted upon, Unite will fully support workers in whatever way necessary, if they remove themselves from imminent danger.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

During the coronavirus crisis Unite is working to keep workers and the public safe, to defend jobs and to protect incomes.

For media enquiries ONLY please contact Unite senior communications officer Barckley Sumner on 07802 329235 or 0203 371 2067.

Email: [email protected]

Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.