Lawyer John Hendy QC has compiled a 14-page dossier briefing teachers how they can avoid getting fired for refusing to return to work when schools reopen. The document, which he sent to unions including the National Education Union (NEU), advises teachers to use employee protection laws designed for factories and mines to their advantage.
The peer, who was given a seat in the Lords by Jeremy Corbyn, argues coronavirus could be considered a hazardous substance and therefore is covered by a wealth of Health and Safety rules, namely the 2002 Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations.
It would mean teachers have the right to stop working if they feel unsafe because of coronavirus risks in the classroom.
If unions decide to exploit the loophole, it could throw the Government’s plans to reopen schools in September into chaos.
Boris Johnson has repeatedly vowed to get schools up and running for the start of the academic year.
Yesterday he said he was “no doubt” that schools in England can fully reopen safely next month.
The Prime Minister praised schools for ensuring the safety of pupils in the classroom, and said he was “very, very impressed” with how schools have adapted to the crisis.
He said: “The most important thing for people to remember is that you have got to get schools back, we will get schools back, but also we have got to stick to our discipline – so in schools they have some very well thought through plans for how to manage it.”
But Lord Hendy’s plan could lead to teachers refusing to return to work.
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The Labour peer added: “Nobody could doubt that coronavirus is serious.
“The imminence of the threat depends on the circumstances of the workplace: The lone tractor driver ploughing a field is not likely to be in such circumstances, school teachers in a small classroom with 30 kids in them might be in a very different situation.
“So, workers do have rights to refuse work.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who backs pupils returning to the classroom, is understood to be distancing himself from Mr Hendy’s plans.
A Government source told the newspaper: “Sir Keir Starmer needs to stop dancing to the unions’ tune and start helping to get children back into the classroom safely.”
In response to the report, the NEU said: “The NEU is not being advised by Lord Hendy on COVID-19. We want schools to open as a priority and to remain open as a priority.”