eNews - 24 March 2020 - COVID-19, A message from the President

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COVID-19 - A message from the President

24 March 2020

Dear Member,

This has been a most tumultuous and distressing time.

COVID-19 has presented the entire community a challenge it has not faced in our lifetimes.

Educators have been put in the frontline. I thank our members for their support and dedication. I think an explanation of the process the SSTUWA has followed is important.

Much of the activity in situations like this is done beyond public view. It is consultation with the relevant departments and with senior government figures, it is dealing with urgent issues, both personal and workplace.

Issues that have been discussed and addressed have included access to special leave, looking after all educators with varying concerns and requirements and trying to keep workplaces as safe as possible.

Your union is raising and seeking solutions in cases such as the one where a member with a heart issue was denied a request to work from home. The union intervened and that decision was changed.

It is addressing specific workplaces where the proper actions have not been undertaken to assist with social distancing – indeed it is getting people who are not teachers or lecturers to understand the reality of enacting such advice in schools and colleges.

Think of your own workplace and the complexity of people’s personal situations – this is magnified 1000 fold across the sector, with added complications in remote and regional areas.

As with every other aspect of this situation none of the outcomes are perfect.

The SSTUWA, like the rest of the community, has had to have some level of faith in the advice being given by medical professionals to our leaders at both Commonwealth and State Governments.

Keeping schools open is a matter under great debate even among medical experts. We are seeing very senior medical voices saying schools and TAFEs should be closed. Confusion was worsened by the Prime Minister’s baffling explanation that we need to keep schools open because students might otherwise infect others at shopping centres, but it is safe to keep schools open because students don’t spread the virus.

However, those advising the government have so far argued that keeping schools open has been the best way forward for the community at large and that is the advice the National Cabinet has followed.

We all have personal views on that, and indeed The SSTUWA has publicly called for that advice to be reviewed, but we operate in the real world. The SSTUWA, like everyone else, has to do its work within the parameters set by the government.

The union movement as a whole has mobilised to get concessions on extra leave and hopefully some sort of base payment to those who end up with no income at all.

Unions have also secured an extra 20 days leave related directly to COVID-19. Is this perfect? No. It is accessible only when all other leave has been used. However, this is an urgent situation and immediate solutions are required. Sometimes those solutions will not be perfect. Sometimes these solutions will need to be reviewed later and adjustments made.

A priority has been to try to lobby departments to ensure educators are as safe as they can be. This is why the SSTUWA has asked for increased cleaning time, proper supplies of soap and sanitiser and the ability of those in high-risk groups to work from home or take paid leave.

The vast majority of members have responded to this situation in a supportive way and we are extremely grateful for that.

My message to all is: never has there been a more important time to remember that unions work for all members; we support each other; we don’t put self above our colleagues; we don’t abuse our colleagues, fellow members or staff.

Be wary of those who talk about walking off the job. The consequences of such decisions need careful consideration. Members would have no income, no rights to leave; no protections at all.

The SSTUWA will continue to work on your behalf. Much of that effort will come in weeks and months to come. There will be many with individual situations where they feel they have been treated unfairly and will need union support. We will also be actively addressing professional situations as they arise.

The SSTUWA will be here to offer the back-up members require.

Stay safe, stay supportive, stay in touch.

Pat Byrne SSTUWA President