GMB Scotland union calls for on-site testing of school staff

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A major union has called for routine on-site coronavirus testing of school staff in Scotland.

The GMB Scotland union is urging the Scottish government to bring forward a Covid testing regime for every school in the country.

It followed a survey of its members indicating two-thirds of school support staff do not feel safe at work.

The Scottish government said staff can access a test if they believe they may have been infected.

Ministers look set to announce the introduction of face coverings in corridors and communal areas of secondary schools.

And a school in Dundee has been closed, and pupils and staff asked to self-isolate, after it was linked to 27 new cases in the city.

GMB Scotland has written to Deputy First Minister John Swinney, urging him to give school staff the opportunity to access Covid testing in their workplace - similar to the system for care homes.

Image source, PA Media

That puts financial and time pressure on low-paid support staff, according to GMB Scotland.

In a letter from the union's senior organiser, Drew Duffy, he says: "Testing kits should be delivered to every education setting on a weekly basis and staff have the choice to get a routine test in their workplace."

The union's demand follows a survey of 1,400 members - support staff including cleaners, janitors, caterers and pupil support assistants - which found that:

  • 96% believe regular testing should be offered at work
  • Almost two-thirds (63%) do not feel safe at their work
  • Over one-fifth (23%) have confirmed a suspected or positive case of Covid at work
  • Just under half (46%) would not know what to do if there was a suspect or confirmed case of Covid at their work.

GMB Scotland organiser Helen Meldrum said: "Over a week since the return of Scotland's schools, it's clear that many support staff do not feel safe at their work and overwhelming majority of them want to be able to access a Covid test at work.

"If support staff need to book a test, they must absorb the financial costs and time implications to do so, and for a chronically low-paid workforce with many employed on multiple contracts across multiple workplaces, that's just not credible.

"The failure over the summer months to listen to the voices of school support staff echoes what we witnessed in care earlier this year, and in this case the political focus has been on teachers and pupils while support staff have been forgotten.

"You cannot have a safe return to full-time education if a significant chunk of the workforce needed do not feel sufficiently safe, valued or heard by our decision-makers, and that's why we urged the deputy first minister to intervene now."

Safe workplace

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: "Guidance, informed by the latest scientific advice, sets out the range of measures schools should take to minimise the risk of the spread of the virus.

"We know concerns still exist and we want teachers and staff to not just be safe, but to feel safe, in school and in nursery.

"Teachers, nursery and school staff can already access a test for Covid-19 on demand through their employer if they are concerned they have been at risk from infection."

She added: "We have written to every local authority providing information on how staff can access a test."

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