Teachers can legally refuse to return over health risk, says union | Education

Teachers can legally refuse to return when schools reopen unless they get the same protections against coronavirus as other frontline staff, one of the UK’s leading teaching unions has warned.

In a letter to local authorities seen by the Guardian, the 300,000-strong NASUWT threatens to invoke legal action to defend teachers against being forced back into schools on 1 June because of the risk to their health.

The union’s letter marks a significant hardening against the government’s push to reopen primary schools in England from 1 June. It comes as one academy chain says it is aiming to invite pupils back on that date.

Signed by the NASUWT’s general secretary, Patrick Roach, the union’s letter threatens to delay that start date by forcing the government and local authorities to consider their legal obligations.

The union says it has “fundamental concerns” about guidance issued by the government this week, saying it was inconsistent with guidance given to other workplaces, including care homes and the NHS.

“Stringent guidance has been issued for the NHS, for care homes and for employers across the UK. It is unacceptable that this has not been the case for schools,” it says.

“The NASUWT believes that teachers and other school staff have the right to the same consideration and protections, and to be confident that their health and welfare, as well as that of pupils, is at the heart of any planning for wider opening.”

The union said it had to warn local authorities as employers, and the government, that they risked legal action for “breach of duty of care and personal injury due to foreseeable risk, and any other legal recourse available” if efforts were made to force teachers into classrooms during the epidemic.

“The NASUWT recognises that schools and employers have been placed in a situation where the wrong decision will result in people becoming seriously ill and dying, and will therefore appreciate that there can be no compromise on health and safety.

“If this means that schools are unable to open safely before September, because they are unable to make arrangements to safeguard their staff and pupils, then that position must be accepted,” Roach said.

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