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High-risk teachers vulnerable to Covid-19 now know how they will be treated

Unions have signed an agreement of procedures to follow when dealing with teachers who have underlying illnesses or those who are 60 years of age and older, who are at a higher risk of complications if they contract Covid-19.

This comes after teacher unions criticised the basic education department for not providing clarity on the matter.

At-risk teachers who want to return to school may do so, but the principal must agree to this and all safety measures must be in place. The agreement further says that the concession will only be applicable during levels three and two of the national disaster.

At a press briefing in Rustenburg on Monday, the basic education department’s director general, Mathanzi Mweli, said he had signed the Education Labour Relations Council’s collective agreement over the weekend. Heads of departments had contributed to it, he said. 

“It will be a protocol that determines the step-by-step processes of how teachers should go about dealing with comorbidities.” 

The agreement, Concession Process to Follow for Employees with Comorbidity, dated May 30, shows the signatures of Mugwena Maluleke, the general secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union, and Allen Thompson, the president of the National Teachers’ Union. Maluleke confirmed the document’s authenticity. 

“For employees with high-risk comorbidities, it is required of the employer to put appropriate measures in place to accommodate them in the work environment. Due consideration must be given to operational demands and circumstances of employees to accommodate either work from home or for special workplace arrangements to be made,” reads the document. 

These teachers must complete a risk assessment form for vulnerable employees. They will get their full pay while they are at home, but this will be subject to them meeting all requirements. 

Mweli said a medical doctor must write a report with supporting documents proving that the teacher is at risk if they go to school during this time. 

The document lists, among others, the following conditions as high risk: 

  • A person who is 60 and above with one or more diseases/conditions as listed;
  • Solid organ transplant recipients; 
  • People with specific cancers or receiving immunosuppressive treatment for cancer;
  • People undergoing chemotherapy and radical radiotherapy for lung cancer;
  • People with severe respiratory conditions including cystic fibrosis, severe and unstable asthma or tuberculosis of the lung; 
  • Chronic lung problems;
  • Pregnant women with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired;
  • Severe hypertension;
  • Severe obesity;
  • Type II diabetes, chronic kidney disease and liver disease; 
  • More than 27 weeks pregnant; and 
  • HIV with advanced immunosuppression.

If a medical condition is not listed in the document a teacher can ask a doctor to write a letter confirming vulnerability to the virus. But the head of department has the right to get an opinion from another doctor, and in the 30 days while waiting for the outcome the teacher will stay or work from home while receiving a salary.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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