ETUCE calls for coordinated and rational measures

9 March 2020

The COVID 19 outbreak is a public health crisis quite different than anything Europe has faced for many years. As education personnel and their trade unions grapple with the outbreak, we are supporting and informing member organisations in any way we can.

Several European countries are now facing substantial outbreaks of the novel coronavirus. Governments and healthcare services are mobilising to contain the disease. ETUCE calls on authorities and education institutions to be transparent and informative, so that education workers can protect themselves and their students. Schools and other education institutions must implement the appropriate measures, including temporary closures if necessary, while avoiding unfair treatment of workers or excessive disruption to the education sector.

The novel coronavirus has spread round the world at a worrying pace since being noticed in December 2019. Most infected people will experience COVID-19 with mild flu-like symptoms such as a fever, coughing and shortness of breath, but it can have severe or deadly consequences for vulnerable populations. COVID-19’s highly contagious nature has made schools and other education institutions the object of specific containment measures in some countries, including the total closure of some schools or education systems. At a time when many are returning from holidays, education institutions can indeed be a prime location for the spreading of the disease.

The top priority is to ensure that education institutions, their staff and students, are safe. ETUCE demands that authorities and school leaders take preventive action, and that they do so transparently in cooperation with authorities, health and safety experts and workers’ representatives. We must listen to the views of education staff to develop measures that are practical amid their hectic daily reality, which can involve crowded rooms and physical contact with younger children.. Staff must be adequately and continuously informed of health and safety recommendations, and authorities must regularly review the situation.

Any measures must also be proportionate and implemented fairly. If closures, quarantine and self-isolation are ultimately required, any staff asked to stay at home must continue to receive full pay from the first day. Trade unions will simply not accept that staff find themselves forced to take unpaid leave for putting the health and safety of their students first. If it becomes mandatory to work from home, interacting with students or parents online, then staff should be provided with guidance and the adequate material to perform their role in a way that respects their employment and working conditions. Additionally, everything should be done to facilitate the administrative procedures for staff required to stay at home. In this time of uncertainty, we must avoid additional stress for education staff, and also students, parents, and the whole school community.

Susan Flocken, ETUCE European Director, commented: “Europe’s education systems and their workers are entering uncharted territory with this coronavirus outbreak. There is a lot of sometimes contradictory information flowing around, so it is vital that governments offer coordinated and coherent answers. We cannot give into panic, but we also cannot afford to underplay the scale of the current situation. As a federation of education trade unions, representing millions of teachers and other education personnel across Europe, our fundamental demand is that the health and safety of education personnel and students must be the priority for governments and local authorities. What is more, any measures must be applied fairly, so that staff do not face financial hardship or administrative burdens because of public decisions to protect our collective wellbeing.”

ETUCE is closely monitoring the situation. Member Organisations at national level are doing excellent work to update their affiliates and provide advice on the health and safety procedures to protect themselves and their students.

To know more about the evolution of the coronavirus and the official health and safety guidance on preventive measures, please explore the information provided by the World Health Organization.