Updated COVID-19 arrangements in Schools: PSA takes action to ensure members are protected in the workplace - Public Service Association

Updated COVID-19 arrangements in Schools: PSA takes action to ensure members are protected in the workplace

On 1 July 2022 the PSA wrote to members about the Department of Education (DoE) advising the union that it was proposing to remove the need to be vaccinated for various employee groups working in schools.

The PSA received extensive feedback from members who were extremely concerned about the proposed changes and the impact they may have on their health and safety in the workplace.

As a result of this feedback, the PSA advocated to have the consultation period extended twice and ensured that the full risk assessment was provided to the union prior to finalisation of the Department’s policy. This was a significant improvement to the original process and allowed the union to advocate more fully on behalf of members.

In this update

  • Department of Education’s new policy on vaccinations
  • Indicative timeframes for implementation
  • Covid smart measures
  • Briefing by NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant
  • The Ernst and Young risk assessment
  • Risk assessments to support individual staff
  • PSA response to risk assessment and steps to protect members

Department of Education’s new policy on vaccinations

Following extensive consultation between the union and senior management representatives up to 15 July 2022 the Department advised the PSA on Monday 18 July 2022 that it will implement the following arrangements from 1 August 2022.

The Department’s new vaccine policy is that for certain staff it will continue to be a condition of their employment that they must have had at least two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine (unless they have a medical contraindication) and show vaccine evidence, as requested. The VACS Attest system will remain in place to facilitate reporting of vaccination status.

Effectively, this decision continues the status quo for staff working in Schools for Specific Purposes (SSPs). Assisted Travel Support Officers have a three-dose requirement under the Public Health (COVID-19 Care Services) Order (No 2) 2022. DoE staff working in hospital schools and Juvenile Justice Centre schools must comply with the highest order vaccination requirement, as determined by NSW Health and Corrective Services NSW.

Both Stewart House School and NSW Centre for Effective Reading (Palm Avenue School) will be exempt from this requirement.

All other departmental staff will no longer be required to be double-vaccinated or show vaccine evidence.

Indicative timeframes for implementation

The PSA advocated strongly for members that day one, term three was not an appropriate day to implement the changes. The Department has advised it will now implement the new vaccine policy in a staged way, with relevant unvaccinated staff able to return to the workplace from Monday 1 August 2022. The Secretary’s replacement determination and direction will therefore come into effect at 12.01am on Monday 1 August 2022.

A team has been established to provide support for principals to implement this change and manage the return of unvaccinated staff to schools.

On Friday 22 July 2022:

  • letters will be supplied by Professional Education Standards (PES) to dismissed and resigned staff members;
  • notification will be issued to casuals regarding the vaccination policy change on the week commencing 25 July 2022; and
  • Letters directing current staff under PES investigation, in the majority of cases, back to work will be issued.

COVID-smart measures

The Department will continue to monitor NSW Health advice about community transmission and implement circuit breaker responses as necessary.

The Department will continue to strongly recommend that all staff and students maintain up-to-date vaccinations for COVID-19 and obtain an Influenza vaccination to provide increased personal protection.

NSW Health advice

As a result of the PSA’s advocacy on behalf of members the Department arranged a briefing by the Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant which occurred on Friday 15 July 2022. This was a good opportunity for the union to ask questions about a range of different COVID health-related topics including vaccination, mask wearing and rapid antigen testing.

The Ernst and Young risk assessment

The Ernst and Young (EY) risk assessment is enterprise based and the department claims it has addressed the range of Department settings at a high level, both in relation to context and roles.

As such, the Department has stated it will not be undertaking individual site risk assessments. The Health, Safety and Staff Wellbeing COVID Case Management team will provide scenario-based advice and guidance on request to schools, for example, management of visitors, including contractors to the site.

This is not acceptable to the PSA and we will continue to advocate for proper site-based risk assessments to ensure members are safe.

Risk assessments to support individual staff

The Department will be facilitating risk assessments with assistance from Health Safety and Staff Wellbeing to support unvaccinated staff who may be at greater risk of a serious illness should they contract COVID-19. These will also be done for those staff with a valid medical contraindication certificate who may also be at risk of serious illness should they contract the virus.

PSA review of the risk assessment and steps to protect members

The PSA’s work health and safety specialists have reviewed the EY risk assessment along with the advice provided by Dr Chant.

To ensure the safety of all members in the workplace the union has written to the Department of Education and has requested copies of all earlier versions of the risk assessment performed by EY.

The Association advocated that the risk assessment does not support the introduction of an unvaccinated workforce as this action does not minimise the risk under the Department’s duty of care as required by section 19 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act). If anything, this decision increases risks in schools.

The Association also pointed out the current poor levels of adherence to social and public health controls, which in the majority have been made recommended rather than required.

The PSA also advised that at the briefing by the Chief Health Officer on 15 of July 2022 particular reference was given to the following.

  • Based on the science, vaccinations are the best practice in front line defence against contagion;
  • In agreement with the EY risk assessment, there is a significantly high risk for reintroducing unvaccinated staff in that they can have more severe illness or death should they become infected;
  • NSW Health is of the view that people with underlying medical conditions are put at a greater risk without the public health and social controls in place;
  • People who are working with critical clients and staff with underlying medical conditions (such as disabilities or other medical conditions) are not being exposed to unvaccinated staff in a health, disability, or aged care working environment. Why are schools exempt from this best practice?
  • For people who have underlying health conditions, it is not enough for them to adhere to the public health and social controls, but requires everyone around them to also adhere to these public health and social controls; and,
  • The best time to introduce measures that reduce the control of the risk is when the curve is at the bottom not when the peak of winter respiratory infection is on the rise.

The PSA will continue to keep members informed in the coming days and weeks.

If you have feedback or concerns about the changes, please email with Vaccination Change Feedback in the subject line.


If you require advice or a specific response to your feedback, you must log this through the Member Support Centre.


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