As half-term approaches I am contacting you to provide an update on the union’s response to the escalating COVID crisis in the region and describe some developments we will be carrying forward over the break, into November and beyond.
With the whole of the Region now in the second tier of the government’s new community restrictions it is important that we build on the excellent work done in spring and summer to ensure that schools and education professionals contribute meaningfully to the maintenance of safe workplaces and the suppression of community transmission of the virus. While local Branches and school groups continue to negotiate with employers, monitor checklists and react to outbreaks, we have, this week, taken the following steps to ensure the voice of the profession is heard:
• The Joint General Secretaries have written to all employers in the sector to remind them of their legal obligations and citing new evidence on the significance of social distancing, ventilation and infection rates among young people. The same letter reiterates the union’s demand in respect of the safety of high-risk, clinically vulnerable and extremely clinically vulnerable staff
• Branch Secretaries, have written to all Directors of Public Health in the region to examine their role in advising how local partners should work with the public to “prevent, contain and manage” outbreaks of coronavirus with a specific emphasis on education and early years settings
• I have met with (or written to) local Council Leaders, Metro Mayors and Members of Parliament to discuss the circumstances in which it would be appropriate to consider implementing the range of options available to local leaders which are set out in the government’s Contain Framework which was published on 28 August – a time when infection rates were much lower than they are now
• We have arranged a members’ Zoom meeting on 17 November to establish how best to respond to known problems in schools/colleges and co-ordinate activity to maximise our influence over decision makers. If you have not already done so you can register for this Zoom meeting here.
• We have issued posters to every workplace highlighting recommended “Dos and Don’ts” intended to preserve some minimum standards on safety and working conditions
• Via the TUC we have led discussions with other unions in the sector to ensure an effective and joined-up approach consistent with our National Recovery Plan for Education
• We are in the final stages of developing an App for use by school reps (or members in schools without a rep) to flag up COVID safety and workload concerns and escalate them collectively to school leaders with appropriate support from union structures. It is expected that this will be launched on 3 November by text and email.
Much more information, advice and guidance on coronavirus issues can be found on our dedicated webpages.
In the event that current community infection rates do not subside the focus on schools and colleges will intensify in November and members are therefore encouraged to remain in contact with school reps and local officers as a means of informing decisions about a robust and appropriate union response.
On behalf of the NEU Northern Regional Council, I wish you a relaxing half-term and look forward to working with you to meet the multiple challenges we anticipate over the next few weeks and months.