UNISON Northern Ireland


UNISON recognises that our members in education are playing a very strong and vital role in fighting back against the current surge in the covid pandemic.  We applaud their courage and determination.

The UNISON Education negotiating  team has  continued to engage with the Education system on the major issues of concern for our members working in special schools and in schools remaining open for children of essential and key workers .

The realities of the health and safety challenges for our members in these schools have been put under a microscope as they work to implement the policy decision on the Education Minister and the Executive.

For the past number of days UNISON negotiators for support staff have along with teachers  met with Department of Education and the Education Authority. We are also working  with teachers unions through NIC ICTU to thrash out and agree a broad trade union response to the Ministers directives. There is no doubt that our support staff members legitimate concerns have delivered a wake up call.

In special schools a lack of time for a review of safety protocols risk assessments, pupil numbers attending and staff availabilty has created an environment of anxiety and frustration.

We can now expect that a number of special schools, will for health and safety reasons, implement revised and reduced attendance schedules for pupils. Some may also, as has recently been announced, have to suspend pupil attendance to deal with challenging risk assessments.

The attendance levels in schools open for children of essential and key workers are also now under a health & safety review and will be considered by UNISON and other unions on that basis at meetings with DE and EA expected in the coming week. 

We are awaiting developments from the following issues raised by our negotiating team with the EA:

  • Confirmation of upgraded Risk assessments with full involvement of designated Trade Union Health and Safety reps
  • Review of pupil and staff numbers in attendance per school
  • EA intervention to upgrade the quality and suitability of PPE for use in special schools
  • Review of use and health and safety protocols on Transport provision
  • Acknowledgment by EA that suspension of pupil attendance and emergency closures may be required where Health and Safety is compromised
  • Confirmation that a Special Liaison Team has been established to work with Special Schools on all of these issues

UNISON continues to demand at the highest level that Education workers in direct contact with children/young people should be moved up the priority list for the vaccination roll out programme.

UNISON members with the support of their education branch reps should use their Trade Union mandate to ensure that all of the issues listed above are being fully addressed in their place of work.

There is a procedure available to individual members who consider their health and safety to be compromised. 

These steps must be followed carefully:

  • Initial complaint to their line manager 
  • Request for an updated risk assessment 
  • A submission to their line manager outlining areas of concern specific to the member and a request for remedial action 

If this fails, the member may wish to invoke relevant clauses of the Health and Safety Act NI Section 68 to indicate their decision not to attend at their workplace.

Members should contact their union branch before embarking on this action.