GMB has been clear from the start of the Covid pandemic that our school-based members’ safety and pay terms and conditions are GMB’s upmost priority.
Yesterday (Saturday 2 January) GMB called on Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson to extend home learning for all primary school children who are not the children of Key workers or who are vulnerable.
We welcomed the decision of the Secretary of State to U-turn on primary schools and early years in London boroughs and believe the same instruction should apply across the rest of England where 78% of the population is currently under Tier 4 restrictions and 21% under Tier 3.
We have taken extensive legal and health & safety advice on the position of the Secretary of State in asking primary schools in England to open to all pupils from tomorrow. We have concluded that we are not able to advise school-based support staff members with legal certainty not to attend work if you are not members of existing Clinically Vulnerable or Clinically Extremely Vulnerable groups.
This is because, unlike teachers, our support staff members typically are likely to be less able to work remotely from home, and all schools in England will have children of key workers and vulnerable children returning tomorrow - Monday 4 January.
GMB will not run the risk of our members being disciplined or dismissed from their employment for not attending work without an authorised reason such as sickness or holiday. You may have been advised that other Unions are suggesting that Section 44 of the 1996 Employment Rights Act Model letter gives members the right to leave their workplace in the face of a serious and imminent risk of danger but whilst this legislation may give protection against any action being taken by employers, the reality is what Section 44 means hasn’t been tested in the context of Covid –19.
However, we will rigorously continue to press local authorities, multi-academy trusts, and schools on their legal duty to update risk assessments and put in place the necessary measures to protect our members from increasing rates of Covid infection including calling on schools to be closed where they deem unsafe.
We support those local authorities who have taken the decision to close schools to children (other than for key workers or vulnerable groups) against the Secretary of State’s position - and we will continue to work with sister unions and relevant other bodies to ensure the safety of our members, their families and the wider public.
We are liaising with the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) unions to consider the legal action they are proposing to challenge the Government's decision not to delay the re-opening of schools for a short period of time whilst risk assessments/testing/policy on vaccination etc. is thoroughly considered and will keep members advised of progress.
No one wants to disadvantage any child’s learning, but the safety of children, staff, and the school community must come first which is why we are also calling for the vaccination of support staff – vital key workers - to be brought forward immediately.
What members should do next
Our advice is that you should attend school tomorrow unless your school has already confirmed it will be closed or you are in a Clinically Vulnerable or Clinically Extremely Vulnerable Group - or have an authorised reason not to be in school (e.g sickness or holiday). We appreciate sister Unions are suggesting the issuing of a Section 44 Model letter. We don’t think the responsibility to challenge your employer should land on our members' shoulders. It is your Union’s responsibility to do this on your behalf.
1. If your school remains open our advice is that you should be present for work.
2. You have a right to ask for revised Risk Assessments. In almost every part of England, infection rates have increased, making Covid exposure more likely. Schools should be revising their risk assessments accordingly and taking appropriate action to mitigate the increased risk,
3. Contact your local GMB rep if you are worried about returning to work
4. If you do not have a workplace rep on-site consider becoming one
5. Pass this briefing to a non-union member and ask them to join
6. Stay in touch with us join our GMB Schools group on Facebook and join our mailing list at firstname.lastname@example.org
You have a legal right to a safe workplace, and it is the responsibility and duty of your employer to ensure that this is the case. You should insist that effective measures are in place for you to work safely and raise a complaint or grievance if you are concerned – GMB is ready to help you do this. Please contact your GMB representative or Region.
Please note that no Union is advising any of their members not to go to work where key workers/vulnerable children will be present. In the first lockdown it was predominately school support staff who kept schools open whilst teachers delivered lessons online from home.
School support staff make up half the school workforce we make no apologies in saying it’s not just about the teachers - the safety of school support staff is just as important
GMB School Support Staff work under the pay terms and conditions of the Green Book, apart from a very small number of members in multi-academy trusts with whom we negotiate separately. GMB is a recognised trade union that has been negotiating pay agreements and guidance that ensure you are paid your wages.
GMB will continue to ensure no workers loses out on pay during Covid-19.
Teachers' Unions have no jurisdiction on your pay terms and conditions of work and do not represent school support staff employed under Local Government Green Book Terms and Conditions. Whilst you may hear of teacher unions demands please note they do not have any oversight of your pay terms and conditions.
GMB will not hesitate to register a dispute with your school if your school is deemed unsafe and by registering a dispute this is a far better way to protect you at work. GMB Teams are on standby to support you.