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Our View: Union bullying at the fore of debate over reopening schools

Nobody should be surprised if no students, apart from those in their final year, return to public school before September. Ever since they met President Anastasiades and the education minister Prodromos Prodromou last Thursday, supposedly to discuss when children should return to school, the leaders of the teaching unions have been coming up with reasons for the schools not to reopen.

This was evident at Thursday’s meeting at which the union bosses insisted the minister engaged in a dialogue with them to agree how the reopening of the schools would take place. This dialogue commenced the next day in a teleconference, with the secondary school union bosses citing a host of reasons for schools not to reopen and agreeing nothing.

It was followed by an announcement by high school teachers union Oelmek on Sunday, saying that health and safety protocols were inadequate, insisting the number of students per classroom should comply with the one person per eight square metres rule, demanding temperature checks for each student as well as the compulsory use of masks and gloves; while schools should be disinfected before and during each day.

The union’s diktats did not end there – it also decreed that students should be divided into two groups and attend on alternate days, setting a limit on the number travelling by bus and, predictably, that there should be a shortened teaching day. The return to school should be only for two weeks and the final year exams should be held at the start of June and not the middle of the month as the education ministry has indicated.

On Monday Prodromou met the primary teachers’ union Poed, the leader of which said afterward that the reopening of schools was almost impossible before the second half of June! He cited a host of practicalities and claimed distance learning for the fifth and sixth grades was making progress, which could only be regarded as a joke considering it consists of about an hour a day.

It is as if the unions are going out of their way to show that the work-shy teachers do not want to return to work even for a day. They want the holiday that started in mid-March for most of their members (there was a conscientious minority that taught online) to last until September. It is a disgraceful attitude that the government should never have allowed. After all it is the education ministry that is supposed to be in charge of schools and not the union bosses.

The government, sadly, is afraid of stamping its authority and confronting the union bullies. In a properly run country the dates for reopening of the schools would have been announced by the education ministry without dialogue or consultations with anyone. If the unions did not approve they could go on strike. Schools would not reopen anyway, but at least the state would not have to pay the teachers and there would be a cost to union bullying.


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