Credit : UNICEF
Credit : UNICEF

India: Trade union calls for strong and immediate action to save teachers’ lives during the pandemic

published 28 January 2021 updated 29 April 2021

Indian education unionists have expressed grave concerns about the increase in the number of teachers affected by COVID-19 in Delhi. The unions have highlighted the need to protect educators and students’ health and safety.

Teachers across India continue to be deployed on COVID-19-related duties without any support, sanitation facilities, personal protective equipment kits, or training to deal with the pandemic. These duties range from distribution of ration/food to door-to-door surveys to identify confirmed COVID-19 cases. Teachers are undertaking these duties despite appeals to the states’ and central governments by their organisation, at local – the Akhil Delhi Prathmik Shikshak Sangh (ADPSS) – or national – All India Primary Teachers Federation (AIPTF) – levels.

High price being paid by teachers

In Delhi alone, because they could not access health facilities in time, 28 primary and secondary public-school teachers died due to a COVID-19 infection. Out of these 28 teachers, eight primary school teachers had been deployed on COVID-19-related tasks, according to AIPTF’s affiliate, ADPSS.

ADPSS, stressed that, in Delhi, the non-payment of salaries and pension for teachers and other employees of two Delhi municipalities (North and East) was the biggest challenge during these difficult times.

Teachers have been juggling their duties as teachers - i.e., delivering classes online – and as ‘Corona warriors’, despite not being paid since August 2020, the union said.

Union mobilisation

The ADPSS filed a petition against the Delhi municipal authorities with the High Court regarding the non-payment of salaries. And, since 6 January, teachers and other state employees have been staging protest actions.

This has led to teachers being threatened with disciplinary action if they do not report for COVID-19-related duties, e.g., screening passengers on buses or fining people without face masks. The union observed that using oxy-meters and thermal scanners without any initial training posed many challenges to them.

Also, while teachers are working extended hours performing various tasks, children’s education has been postponed, ADPSS complained.

It has consulted with other teachers’ unions to decide on a future strategy if salaries are not paid. And it has launched a signature-collecting campaign among the community to mobilise support for teachers’ rightful demands.

AIPTF: Joint action needed

Meanwhile, the AIPTF has reiterated on several occasions that COVID-19 is threatening the health and livelihoods of workers and employers and has major economic and employment impacts.

While some of the concerns were raised in the media, no proactive approach was displayed by the different governments, AIPTF General Secretary Kamala Kanta Tripathy said.

“Many state affiliates approached us, informing us of unexplained delays in payment of salaries or of irrational deductions, and of their engagement in pressuring the state governments to be realistic in such difficult times,” he added.

Specific demands

AIPTF and its 25 state affiliates have continuously raised the concerns of teachers since April 2020, when a nationwide lockdown was imposed to stop the spread of the virus. They still demand that urgent action be undertaken by the respective state governments on the following key areas:

  • Protection and training for teachers performing COVID-related duties
  • Delay in payment of salaries and pension
  • Safety and insurance

AIPTF has already written to the Minister of Education, Chief Ministers, and Education Minister of States regarding the challenges and concerns of teachers during the pandemic.

It considers that all efforts need to be undertaken jointly with support from governments, both central and state, to help teachers during the crisis, protect their safety, protect them from a loss of income, and other issues. As always, the union is open to engaging in social dialogue with policy makers to safeguard the rights of teachers.