Aberdeen classroom support workers claim they are being asked to “risk their lives” and are calling for a limit on the number of employees needed in schools during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It has been revealed that staff across 14 Aberdeen schools have reported feeling “unsafe” and “forgotten about” in their workplace – and plan to file a collective grievance with city council in a bid to increase worker safety in schools.
A survey carried out by GMB Union found that support workers often travel into school to find they are not required to help teach the children of key workers.
Support staff – who are themselves deemed essential workers – also believe their safety has not been given the same priority as school teaching staff.
The collective grievance will call for a universal rota system to ensure staff safety and community-based hubs.
Stephen Massey, GMB Scotland organiser, said the concerns of classroom support staff had not been “taken on board” by Aberdeen City Council.
He added: “It is frankly unacceptable that your employer has deemed the entire workforce are essential workers given this increase in community transmission of the virus when you could be working from home on a rotational basis.
“What is happening in a lot of cases is that people are turning up for work and there is no work for them to do, yet we’ve got members coming in, enough is enough.
“The health and safety concerns of GMB Scotland members need to be recognised urgently by those in power to ensure that all school-based workers have a Covid-19 secure workplace on an equal footing with other education colleagues.
“We are seeing a divide and conquer approach locally which is divisive and risk lives during this pandemic.
“We are calling for all non-essential council workers to be placed on standby immediately with the introduction of staffing rotas to ensure that only the minimal number of staff are being asked to attend their workplace on a rotational basis”.
Mr Massey also called on school cleaners, clerical workers, catering staff and janitors to demand the same level of protection.
An Aberdeen City Council spokeswoman said: “We have not received a grievance letter from the GMB union. We meet regularly with our trade union colleagues and welcome open dialogue.
“Our Covid-19 control measures in schools are quality assured and are in keeping with all Scottish Government guidance.
“All concerns that have been raised by GMB have been addressed and we intend to review our childcare vulnerable learner model following the Scottish Government issuing guidance on the re-opening of school buildings.
“We are not aware of any outstanding issues but are more than happy to hear of concerns from any trade union through our weekly meetings or sooner if of an urgent nature.”
Meanwhile, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she does not want to raise parents’ expectations that schools will reopen next month.
Following the imposition of Scotland’s second lockdown caused by a spike in Covid-19 cases, schools moved to online learning for most pupils – with only those deemed vulnerable and the children of key workers attending in-person classes.
Initially, the lockdown was due to last until February 1, with the Cabinet making a decision on that date on Wednesday.
But Ms Sturgeon said at the coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh on Tuesday she did not want to speculate on what the decision may be.
“Schools are closed to the majority of pupils right now to February 1, we said we would review that mid-January, which is now, and I will set out the conclusion on that”, the first minister said.
“I’m not going to raise parents’ expectations.”
Despite positive movement in the number of cases of coronavirus reported in Scotland, the first minister said it was not yet clear if lockdown, including the return of schools, could be lifted in Scotland.
She said: “We are seeing some positive signs from the numbers that lockdown is starting to stabilise things and hopefully starting to tip them into decline but transmission is still higher than we would want it to be.
“I’m not going to raise expectations about schools being back on February 1 but nor am I going to stand here and make assumptions about a decision we’re not going to take until tomorrow.”