Give teaching staff time to get healthy again
Education staff with lung covid and other long-term illnesses must, according to the AOb qualify for the same schemes as healthcare workers. Supplementary disability insurance is required in all collective labor agreements.
It has now been 22 months since Roos de Vree got corona. She was home with a high fever for three weeks, after which she was back as a teacher for the toddlers. But that soon turned out to be too much of a good thing: “I started having enormous fever attacks. After fifteen minutes I was exhausted.” She has been diagnosed with lung covid. Before she got sick, she worked three days a week. “I now teach three mornings a week. The recovery is excruciatingly slow, with teenie steps. But from fifteen minutes in front of the class, it has already become three mornings. Hour independently, fifteen minutes break, another hour. There is still progress. My employer allows me to take all the time I need.”
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Her employer, De Hub Noord-Brabant (special education) foundation, has postponed the so-called WIA trajectory for Roos de Vree for at least a year for the time being. Officially she would go to WIA after two years of illness. “But I ignore that rigid gatekeeper improvement law,” says Rion Pennings, chairman of the Executive Board at Hub Noord-Brabant. “I want people in our organization who become ill for a long time to be given time to get well. And if that doesn't work within two years, then maybe within three years. And if it is not that far yet, then we will see further.”
That policy does not only apply to staff with lung covid, says Pennings. “Within our organization we also deal with women with breast cancer. I want them to be left alone. We take good care of our students, we also want to take good care of our staff. They must be given time to recover. Moreover: with the shortage on the labor market, good personnel are hard to find. I hope they can return to work with us in good health.”
'On my good hours I want to be in front of the class. I don't want another job, I want to go back to teaching'
Roos de Vree: “I am really grateful to my employer. That I don't have to put energy into conversations for a process that I don't like at all. On my good hours I want to be in front of the class. I don't want another job, I want to go back to teaching.”
A group 8 teacher at a school in Rotterdam can only dream of such a lenient employer. She also has lung covid and there is no question of sustainable integration, as has been agreed with the occupational health and safety doctor. “Due to the staff shortages, I am constantly overloaded, I feel enormously pushed. The agreement was: three days in front of the class and two days with a teaching assistant. But nothing comes of that. I usually run the class for four days and all the important tasks such as tests, parent discussions and the difficult instructions are on my plate.”
Her WIA application is now pending. “It is very stressful. All those conversations, I'm afraid of losing a lot of income and I'm single. I have a lot of extra costs due to my illness.” After a year of illness, her income went down by 30 percent: “Six hundred euros less salary, acupuncture, nutritional supplements, domestic help and five hundred euros extra costs for taxis, because I can no longer drive a car due to loss of concentration”.
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Of course, she wishes that the care employees are better organized for them, she emphasizes. “But education is not taken seriously as a profession. Whether something can be arranged now depends on the goodwill of your board. It's not there for me."
A teacher in group 8 at a North Brabant school also sees benefits approaching quickly. “I supervise small groups of students, I don't have the responsibility for the group. But now, after a year and a half, I only work three times 2,5 hours a day. I come from 40 am. I don't think I'll be teaching full time again in October 2023.”
She does not expect that she will be given an extra year to reintegrate, as De Vree did. “My employer is not that loyal. If that is not regulated by law and nationally, it will not happen.” In that respect, healthcare workers with lung covid are better off, all interviewees say. “While we were also on the front line. We had to keep working, even though it later turned out that it was not safe.”
'If there is any prospect of recovery, then you wouldn't let these people leave education with these staff shortages, would you?'
That's why the fight AOb for better arrangements for staff with lung covid, says Douwe van der Zweep, daily director of the AOb. In April, more than a thousand employers in the education sector received a letter requesting that the WIA application be postponed for a year. “It sometimes happens now in individual cases. But that is not enough. And if there is any prospect of recovery, then you wouldn't let these people leave education with these staff shortages, would you?"
From a survey of AOb and FNV, to which more than 1700 people with lung covid responded, showed that 90 percent expect a sharp drop in income and are very concerned about it. A justified fear, says Van der Zweep, because more than half of the teaching staff do not have supplementary disability insurance. “Most employers now offer these, but at their own expense. Such insurance is only really discussed when you start working. After that, hardly anyone thinks about it anymore.”
'Additional disability insurance can make the difference between ending up at social assistance level or keeping at least 70 percent of your last-earned salary'
You can check whether you have such supplementary insurance on your pay slip (watch out for words such as ipap, loyalis or aov) or ask your employer. Van der Zweep: “We believe that sector-wide employers should take out such supplementary insurance for their employees. Also with retroactive effect for people who now have lung covid. This has also rightly happened in the collective labor agreement for nursing homes, care homes and home care. It can be the difference between ending up on welfare level or keeping at least 70 percent of your last-earned salary. We want to make good agreements about this in all collective labor agreements, this is very important.”
De AOb is extremely disappointed in politics, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and employers, says Van der Zweep. “The educators who are now at home with lung covid have done their very best under difficult circumstances, because society asked them to. They are now individually carrying a very heavy burden for this. Society should take responsibility for the consequences they are now experiencing from their loyalty.”
In the healthcare sector, there is more understanding among employers and politicians, he notes. “It is not perfect there either, but there is a fund to cover the extra costs that patients with lung covid often have to incur. A subsidy is also available for the extra year of reintegration. The WIA is a harsh law for educational staff with lung covid. If you are partially disapproved, the law assumes that you continue to work for the other part. But that often doesn't work.
Van der Zweep continues: “Many post-covid patients experience loss of concentration, fatigue and overstimulation. This makes it difficult to stand in front of the class. There are hardly any jobs in the shadows in education. This means that there is a good chance that many of these people will eventually experience a major drop in income. We don't want that as a society, do we?"
Supplementary disability insurance has been taken out for everyone with retroactive effect for staff with lung covid in healthcare.
“This is now regulated in the collective labor agreement for nurses and carers, with retroactive effect to the start of corona in March 2020,” says Jim van Emden, policy advisor and lawyer at the AOb. “We also want this for education. We estimate that no more than 50 percent of people in education have such supplementary insurance. That has to be 100 percent. It's not just about covid: even if you get cancer, you run the risk of a huge drop in income."
A subsidy scheme for healthcare employers reimburses half of the wage costs, so that people do not run off to the WIA. “Half is not ideal, but better than nothing,” says Van Emden. “We also want more time for teaching staff to return to their old jobs. A subsidy scheme can give an employer that last push to keep the employee employed longer so that there is more time for recovery.”
According to an advice issued by the Council of State last month, the employer is, in principle, primarily liable for illness incurred during work. An earlier government plan to pay healthcare workers an allowance of up to 15 euros is therefore undermined. According to the Council of State, the cabinet may still have a moral obligation to make a contribution. The government acknowledges this, but when the Education magazine went to press, it first wanted to talk to employers about their contribution. “It is certainly something,” Van Emden responds. “There is nothing for teaching staff at the moment.”