‘Demoralised, undervalued and at real risk’ - 91 percent of Edinburgh teachers back move to declare dispute with council over school safety in union ballot

More than 90 percent of teachers balloted in Edinburgh have voted in favour of a formal dispute with their employer over a perceived failure to provide a safe working environment for staff during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) teachers’ union said 91 percent of their members supported the move on a turnout of 65 percent.

The local association now plans to discuss with Edinburgh City Council how to address their concerns around health and safety.

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It comes after education bosses rejected their plea to switch to home learning for the last two days of term.

More than 90 percent of teachers who voted have backed a formal dispute.
More than 90 percent of teachers who voted have backed a formal dispute.

The union had argued the move for Monday and Tuesday next week would help cut the risk of spreading the virus and families having to cancel Christmas arrangements at the last minute, but the council said public health advice was pupils should remain in school.

A ballot was then launched of its over 3,000 members in Edinburgh on whether to declare a trade dispute.

Speaking about the result of this on Wednesday, EIS local association secretary Alison Murphy said: “This is a clear message from Edinburgh members that more needs to be done to support them.

“Since the start of the pandemic, teachers – and all school staff – have been working incredibly hard to support the pupils in their care, and often their families, too. Whilst there have been many fine words of praise from politicians, the reality is that actions have fallen far short of rhetoric.

“Teachers have been left feeling demoralised, undervalued, under constant attack from certain fringe pressure groups, and at real risk from working in schools where the mitigations that so much of the rest of society take for granted are just not happening. Edinburgh members have said, loudly and clearly, that this cannot go on. We desire the same consideration, and the same levels of protection as other key workers.”

“Over the coming weeks, the Edinburgh EIS executive will talk to City of Edinburgh Council about what steps it can take to make sure our schools are safe places to work, that staff feel valued and that our health, safety and wellbeing is supported, so that we are able to give our pupils the education they deserve.”

Earlier this week, Ms Murphy pointed to a rising number of Covid cases in schools, a lack of physical distancing in schools, an extra burden of supervision because of staggered breaks and lunches and an increase in workload because of assessments replacing exams.

She said if issues were not addressed, the next step could be to move to industrial action.

The East Lothian EIS association has also begun balloting members in a bid for support to lodge a formal trade dispute with East Lothian Council over the issue.

The ballot, which will close on Monday, asks for members’ views on the call to move teaching and learning to remote online platforms.

The local EIS branch said its suggestion of introducing home working from Monday aimed to “protect teachers, school staff, children, and their families from the continuing risk of infection.”

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