Reopening: Union warns of legal action on staff safety

NASUWT threatens legal action to schools without risk assessments that are opening tomorrow, while NEU calls for last-minute 'draw back' on government plans

NASUWT warning

A teaching union has warned that any school reopening tomorrow without having carried out an adequate risk assessment could face legal action.

Under government plans, primary schools are due to reopen for certain year groups from tomorrow

However, the NASUWT teaching union says it has written to schools to remind them of their statutory duties to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of staff.

General secretary Patrick Roach said: “All employers are required to consider and assess the risks posed by Covid-19 and to provide information about the control measures they will introduce to keep staff and children safe. Where employers have not done so, we are asking them to reconsider their position.


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“Any employer that seeks to press ahead with reopening of schools to more children without adequate risk assessment planning could face legal action.

“The government has been quite clear to employers that Covid-19 risk assessments must be undertaken with unions or workers. The prime minister has also insisted that employers must look after their workers and ensure that workplaces are Covid-secure and Covid-compliant.”

Unions, including the NASUWT, have expressed concerns over the safety of staff when schools reopen from tomorrow.

One NASUWT letter, seen by Tes, which was sent by the union’s North Tyneside branch to a school that had not provided a risk assessment, states: “The law requires that employers must consult with employees on health and safety at work matters…Failure to respond is not only a breach of legislation but is contrary to the advice of the DfE and the LGA.

“If schools fail to consult, the NASUWT will challenge the schools’ lack of engagement in due course and if there is any detriment to our members working in your school, it will take appropriate steps to protect their interest.”

Meanwhile, the NEU teaching union is calling on the government “to draw back” in the final hour ahead of tomorrow’s reopening of schools and points out that four prominent members of the government’s own scientific advisory body have now expressed worries about the safety of wider school opening.

NEU joint general secretaries Kevin Courtney and Mary Bousted said in a joint statement: “This public break by four prominent members of the government’s Sage [Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies] committee changes everything.

“All four agree that there must be a lower number of cases and an efficient system of contact tracing working before there is a relaxation of lockdown measures.

“Opening schools more widely runs the risk of increasing the R rate and therefore the level of risk to staff and to parents. That risk can only be mitigated if contact tracing is running successfully.”

The Department for Education guidance states: “Every setting should carry out a risk assessment before opening. The assessment should directly address risks associated with coronavirus, so that sensible measures can be put in place to control those risks for children and staff.

"All employers have a duty to consult employees on health and safety, and they are best placed to understand the risks in individual settings.”

 

 

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Dave Speck

Dave Speck is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @Specktator100

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