Trade union organisers in West Dunbartonshire – Margaret Wood, UNITE; Val Jennings, UNISON, Jim Halfpenny, EIS and pupils at school.
By Bill Heaney
West Dunbartonshire Council have ridden roughshod over the trade unions in regard to making plans to get pupils back to school and nurseries after the Covid-19 lockdown.
Joint Trade Union Statement issued minutes ago said: “UNISON, EIS, UNITE & GMB are concerned at WDC proposals to open schools and nurseries to pupils transitioning from 15 June and staff returning to premises from 8 June with a return for pupils on 12 August.
“The support for pupils transitioning between nursery and primary 1, and for pupils moving from primary 7 to secondary 1, will involve the mobilisation of around 2000 pupils and parental support gathering in groups in our schools from the 15th to 25th June.
“The Joint Trade Unions are alarmed that these proposals are being rushed through with a focus on staff returning to premises with no properly consulted risk assessment, covid specific risk assessments or planning and protocols in place as per Scottish Government guidelines.
“We are aware that members in nurseries were advised to return to premises on Monday 8 June 2020. This timescale was not agreed and should not have gone ahead due to consultation with the trade unions being at an early stage.
“The JTUs are also concerned that members in schools have been contacted to return to work despite having childcare or caring responsibilities for someone shielding. Currently guidelines are to work from home unless you are an essential worker.”
Council leader Jonathan McColl and education convener Karen Conaghan and badges of primary and secondary schools which will be amongst all those affected.
The JTUs have key issues which must be in place prior to any return to work. We have had no satisfactory reassurance around any of these issues.
Firstly Head Teachers have been left with the task of overseeing risk assessments for which they have little or no expertise. COVID specific risk assessments have not been communicated to staff in good time while discussions between management and trade unions are still at a very early stage.
Secondly we have had no satisfactory reassurance around cleanliness and infection control. Cleaners also require risk assessments completed prior to any change away from Hubs and these have not been completed or consulted with the trade unions.
Thirdly there is no confidence in the testing or contact tracing in place or measures for members showing symptoms to access testing who are without transport and no protocols for anyone showing symptoms in the workplace.
“The Joint Trade Unions require specific information on the rate of infection within West Dunbartonshire in order to make informed decisions. The National Records of Scotland continue to show that West Dumbartonshire has the second highest rate of COVID – 19 death in the country, next to Inverclyde, while research by Kings College London identifies West Dunbartonshire as having the worst infection rate in Scotland.
“We believe that the rate of infection must be a factor in plans for a phased end of lockdown in order to protect our members and the community. There must be clear evidence produced by WDC of low numbers of infection within the community.
“There are serious concerns that the opening of schools and nurseries and returning staff to work is being rushed through without proper consultation, proper risk assessments and adequate infection control measures or protocols in place.
“Trade Unions are not confident or reassured that the workplace is safe for staff or children to return to which will put them at significant and imminent risk. We urge and advise that this planned return to work is postponed until sufficient reassurance and consultation takes place.
The trade unionists who signed the statement were Val Jennings – UNISON; James Halfpenny and Mick Dolan – EIS; David Scott – GMB, Margaret Wood – UNITE
Cllr Jonathan McColl, leader of the SNP administration at West Dunbartonshire Council refuses to comment. He told The Democrat that it had made a mistake giving its backing to the trade unions when the digital platform was launched.
Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson Beatrice Wishart MSP has today won assurances from the Education Secretary that teachers will be entitled to childcare provision in the new term, but warned that thousands of families are still facing uncertainty.
Mr Swinney confirmed that “teachers will be defined as key workers and there will be a requirement to provide childcare support that will meet the needs of key workers.”
However, when pressed on the how childcare responsibilities and costs should be managed for parents who cannot work from home and need to return to work, Mr Swinney was evasive.
Beatrice Wishart and John Swinney.
In response to Ms Wishart’s question, he replied that “There’s a deeper question here that is important to explore.”
He added “There will be a need for the world of business and the world of education to work cooperatively together because one of them will not be operating at 100% and the other at 50.”
Ms Wishart said:“I’m glad that the Education Secretary has confirmed today that teachers will have their childcare issues addressed through the key worker provision beyond August. But huge questions remain for everyone else.
“Sole traders, shop owners and thousands more families face a colossal dilemma if they need to resume work to earn a living but their child is learning at home a few days a week.
“Failing to address this could lead to the de facto dismissal of a huge number of people, likely to be predominantly women.
“The government can’t simply gamble on employers being understanding and flexible. There needs to be a robust system that families can rely on to avoid these imminent conflicts.”