Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that isolation rules for teachers who are close contacts of COVID-19 cases would be relaxed if they were asymptomatic and returned a negative test – a move that has been blasted by teachers’ unions.
"It is absolutely essential for schools to go back, safely, and to remain safely open if we are not to see any further exacerbation of the workforce challenges we are currently facing," Morrison said after a cabinet meeting on Thursday. "Schools open means shops open. Schools open means hospitals are open, it means aged care facilities are open, it means essential services and groceries are on the shelves. That is what schools open means, and it's very important they go back."
The announcement has prompted criticism from Correna Haythorpe, president of the Australian Education Union (AEU), who said the move was “deeply offensive.”
“The Prime Minister has failed to set out a national plan today,” Haythorpe told news.com.au. “After flagging a national plan last week, today all the Prime Minister provided was an announcement that there would be another announcement, delivered within a frame that says schools must be open to provide a babysitting service for the broader workforce.”
“This 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 a high-quality education during the extremely difficult circumstances of the pandemic.”
Haythorpe added that the AEU would advise teachers to avoid going to school if they are worried.
“The extension of the close contact isolation exemptions to include the education workforce will exacerbate the health and safety concerns that are already being expressed by our members,” Haythorpe told news.com.au. “As a consequence, the AEU would advise our members that if they feel vulnerable as a close contact or they are worried about the potential risk to others, then they should not be going into a school environment.”
Meanwhile, Pam Smith, acting secretary of the Independent Education Union of Australia NSW/ACT branch, likewise told news.com.au that the rule change was a “failure of public policy.”
“Watering down work, health and safety provisions in the third year of the pandemic because the government failed to plan is unacceptable,” Smith said. “It means our members will be forced to work knowing either that they are a close contact and could infect others or that they are working with close contacts and could get infected and carry the illness to their own families – this only adds to current anxieties.”