eNews - 9 April 2020 - COVID-19 message from the President

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I want to acknowledge all members for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic to date. It has been an extraordinarily testing time both for members and SSTUWA staff.

The SSTUWA will be meeting with the Director General of the Department of Education during week one of the holidays to discuss issues in relation to Term 2 operations.

Similar discussions for our TAFE members will also be held.

The matters of concern include

  • Student attendance, specifically defined
  • Employee attendance, including vulnerable workers
  • Delivery expectations, including workload
  • Assessment and reporting
  • Social distancing for students and staff

A full list of issues can be found here. Members will be informed of the outcomes of these discussions as they become known.

So far the SSTUWA has assisted over 1,500 members on the phone and more than 1,200 by email during recent weeks. In addition, there have been countless meetings and consultations with various bodies all trying to make workplaces safer for all of our members in schools and TAFE colleges.

The common theme was uncertainty and fear. To be expected to work in schools or TAFEs in the face of governments’ conflicting positions for the general public and for schools and colleges has put an enormous burden on members.

It might have seemed an eternity for those in schools and colleges, but union pressure meant it was only five days between the Prime Minister categorically stating that schools would remain open for the next six months and his subsequent announcement that schools would be transitioning towards a different delivery in Term 2, with pupil free days declared in the final week of Term 1 to assist with plans for the transition.

The federal government acknowledged, for the first time, the health and safety needs of teachers and the necessity for clear guidelines to be developed, in addition to sufficient and appropriate resources being made available to address those concerns.

That shift was due to state and territory governments effectively bypassing the Prime Minister and the Chief Medical Officer of Australia, which in turn was directly as a response to pressure in all jurisdictions from the AEU and its branches.

At a national level pressure from the broader union movement has resulted in the provision of a reasonable level of financial support for those who have lost jobs themselves or seen a family member lose their livelihood. Once again we see the importance of the Australian union movement at a time of national emergency.

In WA the Minister announced an immediate temporary pause in the delivery of face to face TAFE courses and that from Term 2, a blended style of delivery would include learning via online and interactive technologies, with face-to-face delivery where necessary. This was much needed in the face of almost total public silence from health officials as to how to address the safety concerns of TAFE lecturers.

There is still much to do.

In particular, we are seeking:

  • A commitment from the WA government to support casual and relief teachers with some form of guaranteed income.
  • Greater clarity on how education will be delivered at distance; this is still confused and hampered by widely varying degrees of capacity of schools and colleges to deliver a continuing ongoing education program remotely.

It is clear that both state and federal governments feel it is essential for schools to stay open. This means some teachers will be required to be in workplaces.

The SSTUWA believes that the physical attendance of employees at school must meet the requirements for:

  • Providing a suitable program of work and its successful delivery for students physically attending.
  • Those staff necessary to prepare, and supply materials for students learning at home that cannot be completed remotely.
  • Those necessary for the conduct of essential business and facilities functions.

The SSTUWA views working from home arrangements as a short-term arrangement in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic only. The union does not support working from home/home learning as a sustainable model of delivery for quality education provision.

First priority on working from home should be reserved for those most at risk according to the health guidelines developed at the national level.

These guidelines are currently the source of distress and confusion – the recent change from over 60 with underlying conditions to over 65 with underlying conditions, for example, left people bewildered at how they could be at high risk one day and not the next.

As will be discussed with the department for Term 2, those still in the workplace need assurances and action on social distancing, hygiene and workload.

Of course we know that members are not just worried about work. We all have our own concerns and fears, for ourselves and for our families.

Again, thank you for your support and patience. I also want to acknowledge the hard work being done by those in Royal Street and State Wide Services, as well as other government departments and by the Minister and her staff. The upheaval caused by this pandemic is unprecedented and the consequences will be felt across many aspects of our lives for a very long time.

The SSTUWA knows much of the hard work is still to come. Your union will continue to negotiate around issues as they arise over the next months.

Pat Byrne, President