A teachers’ vote for a dispute over safety in schools during the Covid-19 pandemic has been described as disappointing by Fife Council.
EIS Fife is to declare a formal dispute with the local authority after the move – which could be a step towards industrial action – was supported by 90% of members who took part in a ballot.
It is one of three branches of Educational Institute of Scotland teaching union to do so, the others in Glasgow and West Dunbartonshire.
Fife included 👇 https://t.co/d9Fhql7cEU
— EISFife (@EISFife) December 15, 2020
A request made to close Fife schools on Friday ahead of the holiday next week was refused by the council after Education Secretary John Swinney ruled out the move nationwide.
Scotland’s largest teaching union has accused councils of failing to provide a safe working environment for staff in light of the continuing virus threat.
Carrie Lindsay, executive director of Fife Council’s education and children’s services, said: “We are understandably disappointed with this outcome as we are always available for discussion with our trades unions and pride ourselves with having positive working relationships with them.
“It would always be our preference to seek to resolve matters through local discussion and unfortunately this dispute has not been approached in this manner.”
Mrs Lindsay said the health and wellbeing of the council’s workforce was extremely important.
She said: “Throughout the pandemic response, the duty of care we have to the health, safety, and wellbeing of all our employees has been at the forefront of the approach we have taken. The wellbeing of staff is central to decisions that we have made in Fife.
It would always be our preference to seek to resolve matters through local discussion and unfortunately this dispute has not been approached in this manner.”
Carrie Lindsay, Fife Council
“As a local authority, we do not have the legal authority to close all schools or move all schools to remote learning in the current circumstances, according to our legal advice.
“If there is any change to national advice from either Scottish Government or Public Health Scotland, then, as always, we will take steps to make sure that we follow that guidance.”
Labour MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife Alex Rowley said he had been contacted by numerous teachers and parents backing the call for early closure of schools, which are due to break off next Tuesday afternoon.
He said: “We are reaching a point where many schools are struggling to remain open due to numbers of pupils and teachers having to isolate as a result of a person in school testing positive.
“The levels of pressure on pupils, teachers and other staff must be immense and I am calling on both Fife Council and the Education Secretary John Swinney to look at the situation in schools and revaluate their thinking.”
Teachers ‘at breaking point’
The EIS Fife association claimed teachers were at “breaking point” and it was time for Fife Council to “give something back”.
Its executive is to meet on Wednesday evening to agree next steps but said deployment of blended learning around school Christmas holiday, which would involve an early closure, was paramount.
David Farmer, branch publicity officer, said the result of the ballot, conducted over four days, showed overwhelming support for a declaring a dispute with the council.
He said: “We cannot ignore the fact that our mightily impressive ballot result comes at a time when hundreds of the children in our schools are self-isolating and positive cases continue to arise in our schools.
“Continuing issues with Covid-19 safety in schools and the anxieties around that have taken teachers to breaking point.
“EIS members in Fife support the continuation of education for our children but not at any price.
“We have stepped up the plate, irrespective of risk, every school day since August. It’s time now for Fife Council to give something back.”