COVID-19: FAQs for schools and preschools

Updated: 20 April 2020

The Coronavirus pandemic has caused anxiety and fear throughout the community. AEU members are part of the frontline of services at high risk of contracting COVID-19, a fact frequently ignored by government.

Some of your frequently asked questions (and answers) about the AEU SA response to COVID-19 are compiled below. Check back for updates.

Please note: The most recent leave arrangements with regard to COVID-19 are outlined in the 'Determination of the Commissioner for Public Sector Employment'. The arrangements outlined in the Determination are in addition to, and provide improvements to, some matters outlined on the Department's Leave Arrangements during COVID-19 page.

I’ve been sent home for self-isolation. What leave do I take?

The most recent leave arrangements with regard to COVID-19 are outlined in the 'Determination of the Commissioner for Public Sector Employment'.

The Determination states that:

Where an employee is contacted by SA Health as part of contact tracing procedures, and they are subsequently required to self-isolate and it is not practicable and appropriate to work from home, special leave with pay will be approved for the required period of self-isolation.

The special leave referred to here is Special Leave with Pay for COVID-19.

My school has been required to close. What leave do I take?

Leave arrangements with regard to COVID-19 are outlined in the 'Determination of the Commissioner for Public Sector Employment'.

The Determination states that:

Workplace shutdown for deep-cleaning

In the event the Government or Chief Public Health Officer directs a workplace to shut down for a short period of time, for example 48 hours to undertake deep-cleaning, and where it is not practicable and appropriate to work from home or from another work location, the employee will be deemed ‘absent on duty’.

Temporary cessation of service (full or partial), or physical workplace closure for COVID-19 purposes (this provision does not apply for deep-cleaning purposes)

In the event the Government or Chief Executive determines that a service should temporarily cease (full or partial), or where a workplace physically closes, where practicable and appropriate, the employee will be given access to flexible working arrangements or transferred to alternative duties.

Where the above is not practicable and appropriate, the employee will be provided with special leave with pay for COVID-19.

If special leave with pay for COVID-19 is exhausted, the employee should access their own leave entitlements. 

I need to be home to care for a child whose school is closed.  What leave do I take?

Leave arrangements with regard to COVID-19 are outlined in the 'Determination of the Commissioner for Public Sector Employment'.

The Determination states that:

Employees impacted by child-care or school closures

Employees who have care arrangements impacted by a school or child-care closure will be provided with access to flexible working arrangements wherever possible. Where not practicable or appropriate to offer flexible working arrangements, access will be provided to existing own leave entitlements, including accrued sick/carer’s leave, to take an uncapped number of carer’s leave days. Carer’s leave will be provided to care for dependents who are well, in recognition of the limited alternative care options that are available.

If I am sick will I be required to take sick leave or will special leave be available?

Leave arrangements with regard to COVID-19 are outlined in the 'Determination of the Commissioner for Public Sector Employment

The Determination states that:

 

Absence due to illness (including COVID-19 illness)

If an employee is absent from work due to illness, current sick leave entitlements and conditions apply. In instances where sick leave is exhausted and the employee has tested positive for COVID-19 and is unable to work, Chief Executives may grant special leave with pay on a case-by-case basis.

Members are advised that if you believe that COVID-19 has been contracted at the workplace, a Workcover claim can be submitted.

I am a TRT. What will a closed site mean for casual employees?

The AEU has been negotiating for TRTs to receive the same paid special leave provisions as other staff taking into account prior work patterns.

The Department's Leave Arrangements page contains information regarding temporary and casual employees impacted by COVID-19 being paid for rostered/booked shifts where they fall ill, need to self isolate, if there are site closures or you have caring responsibilities, please see the Department’s guide for all details.

The AEU has successfully supported TRT members in claiming for days where work was booked but cancelled due to COVID-19.

I am over 65 years of age. What is being done for members who are in this risk category?

The most recent leave arrangements with regard to COVID-19 are outlined in the 'Determination of the Commissioner for Public Sector Employment'.

The Determination states that:

Vulnerable employees

National Cabinet’s strong advice is for self-isolation at home to the maximum extent practicable for Australians: 

  • with an underlying health condition (e.g. a compromised immune system, for example due to cancer, or a chronic medical condition which places them at serious risk); OR
  • are aged
    • over 50 as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person;
    • over 65 with a chronic medical condition; or
    • over 70.

Agencies are to enable this wherever possible and provide where appropriate access to work from home arrangements. Where it is not practicable and appropriate to work from home, COVID-19 special leave with pay will be applied. If COVID-19 special leave with pay is exhausted, access to the employee’s own leave entitlements will be provided to enable the employee to stay at home.

Please see the Determination for further information regarding Vulnerable Employees. 

It is the position of the AEU that all vulnerable employees must be given the opportunity to work from home, or be given access to special leave provisions immediately.
What if my pregnancy is at risk if I am infected with COVID-19. Is there anything I can do?

Current medical advice is unclear on the risk of COVID-19 to pregnant women.

The Department’s Quick Reference Guide provides several options including transfer to a safe job, working from home or 'no safe job' leave if eligible.

It is the positon of the AEU that all vulnerable employees must be given the opportunity to work from home, or be given access to special leave provisions immediately.
If I contract the virus at school can I claim Workers Compensation?

Yes.
DfE’s response to “mass gathering” seems contradictory. Is it OK for an assembly for 700 students and staff to proceed?

In accordance with recent Federal Government advice, provided though the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee’s guidelines for schools, any circumstances where physical/social distancing is not possible should be avoided. This includes cancelling assemblies.

What rights do members actually have?

All workers have a right to a safe workplace. The Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act SA, Division 6, Clause 84, Right of worker to cease unsafe work, states that: 

“A worker may cease, or refuse to carry out, work if the worker has a reasonable concern that to carry out the work would expose the worker to a serious risk to the worker's health or safety, emanating from an immediate or imminent exposure to a hazard.”

The AEU has provided information and advice on the use of Clause 84 and other WHS Regulations with regard to provision of a safe workplace, to all health & safety reps. 

See your health & safety rep or AEU rep for further details.

Can some clarity be provided about the role of cleaners in maintaining an hygienic workplace?

The Department for Education (DfE) have stated that additional cleaning has been provided.

As outlined in the recent Australian Health Protection Principal Committee’s document, provided by the Federal Government as a guideline for education settings, increased cleaning continues to be of utmost importance. The AEU has contacted the Premier of SA and spoken with the leadership of DfE to ask how these new measures will be implemented in schools and preschools.

Can I work from home?

The Department’s Quick Reference Guide and 'Determination of the Commissioner for Public Sector Employment' include details of when working from home arrangements can be sought.

Contact your site leader (or line manager if you are the site leader) if you are seeking work from home arrangements.

Should your work from home application be refused, please contact the AEU for support.

What is the process for applying to work at home if considered vulnerable?

THE Department's Quick Reference Guide states that:

Working from home arrangements are to be negotiated with and approved by the appropriate leader. Working from home is supported wherever practicable and appropriate, considering that we can maintain effective operations and essential services without physical presence.

Your application goes to your site leader who can approve your work form home application.

We have concerns about hygiene resources that are not available to staff and students. 

In a recent media interview, DfE leadership stated that additional supplies are ordered and expected. Advice from the Department for those who cannot access hygiene supplies is to call the Department hotline – 8226 1440. 
Do staff get paid it they are forced to be off site ?

The Department's Quick Reference Guide includes the following:

"Temporary and casual employees impacted by CoVID-19 will be paid for rostered/booked shifts where they are directed away due to site closure."

Further details are provided in the 'Determination of the Commissioner for Public Sector Employment', and include:

Temporary cessation of service (full or partial), or physical workplace closure for COVID-19 purposes (this provision does not apply for deep-cleaning purposes)

In the event the Government or Chief Executive determines that a service should temporarily cease (full or partial), or where a workplace physically closes, where practicable and appropriate, the employee will be given access to flexible working arrangements or transferred to alternative duties.

Where the above is not practicable and appropriate, the employee will be provided with special leave with pay for COVID-19.

If special leave with pay for COVID-19 is exhausted, the employee should access their own leave entitlements. 

If staff with underlying health conditions are approved to work from home or access leave, who would then be accountable for the safety and care of the students?

As with any circumstances when there are insufficient staff to maintain duty of care for students, site leaders should contact their Education Director to discuss options, including site closure. 

I would appreciate further clarification on ‘flexible work conditions’?

In schools and preschools, flexible work arrangements/conditions could refer to working at a different location or in this instance, it is mostly likely to refer to working from home.  The AEU understands that DFE will issue further clarification on this matter shortly.