COVID-19 is now officially a pandemic. With the economy already in trouble, the Tories have announced in the Budget that extra funds are available after all. However, unlike the last crash, unions need to make sure the bailout isn’t just for big business but protects workers too.
Johnson claims he is being guided by health advice. But the fact that the Tories’ first plan to deal with school staff absence was to remove class size limits suggests otherwise. Their primary motivation seems to be to keep workplaces open while expecting schools to child-mind, never mind the risks to health.
Of course, schools can play an important role supporting children from vulnerable families and, for example, emergency workers, but, if schools stay open, union groups must organise to make sure health, safety and welfare is put first. That includes employing additional supply staff to cover absences and counsellors that may be needed, training staff to answer children’s concerns, and time for regular hand washing and adequate cleaning. If schools close, then demands on staff to work from home or elsewhere must also be reasonable and agreed with unions.
Unions must also urgently insist that agency staff are not left unable to pay their bills. Casualisation and privatisation of supply cover already means supply staff are inadequately paid. Closures and/or self-isolation could mean drastic income losses. Unions must demand that all staff affected by the crisis have their pay protected fully.
Councils should use their reserves and emergency powers to meet extra costs and demand the Government foots the bill.
|This article is part of the latest Socialist Party in Schools Bulletin - download a copy here|