Teachers’ unions have blasted Scott Morrison, accusing him of being ‘offensive’ after announcing a new policy they called a ‘failure’.
Scott Morrison’s announcement that teacher isolation rules will be eased has been met with fury from unions, with one accusing the Prime Minister of being ‘offensive’ and using schools as a service of ‘ Baby sitting”.
Speaking after the National Cabinet on Thursday, Mr Morrison said new Treasury modelling, based on NSW, predicted up to one in 10 workers would be absent due to Omicron at any time during a peak.
He said that could then increase by another 5% if schools closed.
Mr Morrison said it was a ‘day-to-day balance’ to protect hospitals and end labor shortages when it came to Omicron, before announcing a list of new industries in which close contacts would not have to self-isolate if they were asymptomatic and returned a negative test.
Among them was education and childcare.
“It is therefore absolutely essential that schools return safely and remain open safely if we are not to see a further exacerbation of the workforce challenges we currently face,” he said.
“And the health advice is that they can go back.”
The Australian Education Union has now reacted with fury, saying the Prime Minister continues to leave them “empty-handed” of a national plan before the start of the school year.
“The Prime Minister failed to come up with a national plan today,” said AEU President Correna Haythorpe.
‘After signaling a national plan last week, today all the Prime Minister provided was an announcement that there would be another announcement, made within a framework that says schools must be open to provide a childcare service to the entire workforce.
“It is deeply offensive and shows no respect for the thousands of dedicated and professional teachers, principals and education support staff who have worked incredibly hard to provide high quality education under the extremely difficult circumstances of the pandemic.”
Ms Haythorpe said they would advise members not to go to work if they were worried.
“Expanding the close contact isolation exemptions to include education personnel will exacerbate the health and safety concerns already expressed by our members,” she said.
“As a result, the AEU would advise our members that if they feel vulnerable as a close contact or are concerned about the potential risk to others, they should not enter a school environment.”
Meanwhile, the Independent Education Union of Australia NSW/ACT branch – which represents 32,000 staff – called the change in the isolation rule a “dismal failure of public policy”.
“To water down the labour, health and safety provisions in the third year of the pandemic because the government has failed to plan is unacceptable,” Acting Secretary Pam Smith said.
“This means that our members will be forced to work knowing either that they are a close contact and could infect other people, or that they are working with close contacts and could be infected and pass the disease on to their own family – it only adds to the current anxieties. ”
Ms Haythorpe said they wanted a national plan with guidelines that addressed the needs of each state and territory as required.
She said this national plan must also include priority access to RATs and PCRs “with clear and consistent testing, tracking and isolation protocols and procedures to manage staffing shortages”.
Mr Morrison was asked on Thursday whether free RATs would be prioritized for teachers and children in schools nationwide, such as elderly care and health workers.
“We will confirm our view on this over the next week and we are working on arrangements for this,” he told reporters.
“We had a very thorough discussion about this today with a range of views across states and territories on the best way forward.”
Mr Morrison said there were a number of issues to consider but teachers would be the highest priority to get tested as they more often brought the virus into schools.
“If this were to continue, there would be two issues, the testing of teachers, both in child care and then in school settings,” he said.
“Primary is different from secondary because in secondary, mask-wearing and things of that nature are more effective than with younger kids.”