Combating COVID-19: a collective response

18 August, 2020

The Queensland and the Northern Territory have so far been fortunate to be spared the devastating impacts of a second wave of COVID-19 in our communities; however, the need to continue our collective response to this crisis and keep employers to account remains paramount.

Currently, Victorian schools are back to remote learning and the number of New South Wales schools closing due to COVID-19 outbreaks is growing by the day.

IEUA-QNT Branch Secretary Terry Burke said the situation faced by colleagues interstate reinforced that the review of comprehensive health and safety plans remained essential in all schools given the challenges of the ever-evolving COVID-19 health emergency.

“Having a COVID-19 response plan in place is a critical matter for all school employers and this was communicated to them by our union very early in Term 3,” Mr Burke said.

“What we have seen interstate, and even in Queensland in late July with a small number of school closures, has underscored the priority safety protocols and protections school employers must put into action in order to protect students and staff.

“When it comes to COVID-19 response plans, all employers must ensure they have good working relationships with their local health officer well ahead of any situation arising at their school or school sites.

“This is essential so they can collaborate immediately in the event of any school closure and the implementation of associated cleaning and contact tracing processes,” he said.

Protocols and protections critical

“There must be clearly established protocols for suspected infections within school sites,” Mr Burke said.

“Schools must be prepared to enact an emergency response plan in cases of suspected infections within a school community including protocols for decontamination and paid leave for employees during any closure.

“A critical element is ensuring wage protections and support for casual staff.

“Casual employees have generally been ignored in the various pandemic leave policies developed by employers.

“The very nature of insecure casual work has proven to have potentially disastrous consequences interstate, and pandemic leave must be extended to include casual staff who are required to self-quarantine or in cases where a school closes,” he said.

Meeting with Chief Health Officer

Mr Burke said our union had also met with Queensland’s Chief Health Officer, Dr Jeannette Young, to consider member concerns about the current advice for the operation of Queensland schools.

These concerns included:

  • the current medical advice for the operation of schools and its possible revision;
  • the capacity of schools to practice social distancing;
  •  the best practice operational steps for a school in the event of a COVID-19 closure; and
  • the process for engagement with stakeholders for updates/revision of medical advisories.

“Maintaining our dialogue with employers and government as we face the challenges of COVID-19 is paramount and our union is always here for members when it comes to providing support and action to enforce safety measures,” Mr Burke said.

National Work Safe Month highlights psychological safety

Mr Burke said the pandemic’s psychological effects must also be considered and addressed by employers.

“As part of National Safe Work Month in October, our members will be using this year’s theme of WHS Through COVID-19 and reiterating to employers that their workplace health and safety responsibilities are to both the physical and psychological wellbeing of staff,” he said.

“Teachers and schools support staff have become frontline workers in this pandemic but they like everyone else are dealing with the challenges of COVID-19 in their personal lives too.

“Employee access to mental and wellbeing support services is another essential pillar in any response plan to this crisis and must be a priority for employers,” Mr Burke said.

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