NASUWT backs Govt policy on keeping schools open, seeks detailed info from members
Gibraltar’s teachers’ Union, NASUWT Gibraltar, has told its members that they have a “vital role” to play in keeping schools open to help slow the spread of Covid-19 through Gibraltar.
In a memo to members, the union said schools “need to remain open” as part of wider measures aimed at reducing the risk to the most vulnerable members of this community, namely the elderly who would likely have to take on childcare duties if schools were shut.
In the memo, NASUWT Gibraltar’s president designate, Charlie Bishop, called on teachers to “protect our loved ones” by not allowing high-risk members of the community to take care of the young.
The statement comes after Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, Minister for Public Health Dr John Cortes, Minister for Education Gilbert Licudi, and senior civil servants met with the union.
Mr Bishop acknowledged that many had questioned the decision to keep the schools open, but now that the reasons had been explained teachers needed to step up and provide a vital role.
“We walked into this meeting questioning the decision to keep schools open,” Mr Bishop said.
“However, it quickly became apparent that the gravity of the situation is unprecedented and that we all have a vital role to play.”
“The schools need to remain open for now if we are to protect the most vulnerable in our society: those who are over 70 and who suffer from underlying health conditions.”
“However, the emphasis of our contribution to this challenging situation is no longer education focused, but instead, to ensure social distancing between the vulnerable and our young (who are not at risk). We need to stress that anyone over 70 is at a very high risk.”
He added that measures will be put in place to facilitate childcare for teachers, which will likely include “cross-school cooperation”.
“To this end, we have been given flexibility in how we manage this within our schools. This flexibility, which is supported by the Department, is being inbuilt so that WE can protect our loved ones, by not allowing high risk members of our community to take care of our children while we provide this essential service,” Mr Bishop said.
“This means, provision WILL be made to facilitate childcare for teachers within our schools. This will likely include cross-school cooperation. We are all in this together.”
The union has also asked all teachers to submit their concerns via an online form, which will also flag vulnerable teachers.
The concerns will be shared with the GHA Medical Director, and doctors will make the final decision about which pupils or staff will need to be kept away from schools.
“In order to do this doctors will be examining individual files and taking decisions on a case by case basis, they will be contacting all of those who have underlying medical conditions or living with those who do,” said Mr Bishop.
Mr Bishop added this was a “fluid” situation and members would be updated as and when necessary.
He called on teachers to keep safe, wash their hands, and rally together for the good of Gibraltar.
“In our history there are moments that will test us, this is one of those moments,” Mr Bishop said.
“We all need to rally together for the good of our community and our loved ones.”
The Gibraltar Government confirmed schools will stay open, as it expressed the importance of public sector workers keeping Gibraltar functioning.
Chief Minister Fabian Picardo shared the medical advice the government has received from the Public Health professionals and the logic behind the decision to keep schools open.
The government discussed the concerns of vulnerable children in the general school population and the concern for teachers who have underlying conditions themselves.
"This was very much also the concern brought to the attention of the Government by the NASUWT representatives," the government said in a statement.
"A number of ideas were shared as to how to improve the work being done on the schools issue and the Chief Minister committed to continue to consult with NASUWT colleagues on a regular, 48 hourly basis, as the situation develops."
The advice in respect of schools received by the Director of Public Health was also shared with the Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi and with Marlene Hassan Nahon.
"The meeting with the GGCA was also positive and productive, as was the meeting with Unite the
Union," the government said.
"In both cases Mr Picardo expressed the importance of the public sector workers in keeping functioning, deliverable public services in Gibraltar, in particular on the frontline of health care."
"It was agreed to continue to meet regularly also and to work offline on how best to introduce interim working mechanisms in case separate teams are needed in departments or if remote working may be required."
Mr Picardo thanks all those who met today to discuss the decisions, with more meetings set to be held tomorrow.
"I want to thank the members of the respective unions who met me today," Mr Picardo said.
"All have been highly responsible in the attitudes they have taken to the decisions we have to make. We have agreed to continue meeting, talking and working together."
"We will need to ensure that decisions we make which are right when we make them are kept under constant review and that we are working with the unions on decisions going forward. I have also briefed the Leader of the Opposition and Ms Hassan Nahon this evening on the events that have transpired."
"I will also continue in contact with them in coming days as we need to take other decisions to slow the inevitable spread of the virus in our community. Further meetings will be held tomorrow and in coming days at No6 on this subject."