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As students return to school today, teachers and students are required to test for COVID-19 twice weekly and provided with free rapid antigen tests (RATs) – but school cleaners have been excluded.

In New South Wales school cleaners have been left out of the Government’s return to school plan and their RAT testing regime. In other jurisdictions such as the ACT where cleaning is not contracted out and cleaners directly employed, they are included in the return to school plans and will be provided with RATs.

The United Workers Union, The Parenthood and the NSW Teachers Federation call on Premier Dominic Perrottet to take responsibility for this oversight, and as vital school staff and members of the school community, include them in the testing regime.

Arou Akot, school cleaner in St Clair, New South Wales:

“We need to be supplied with rapid tests to protect ourselves and our beloved family members. We urge the government to supply these to us for the safety and protection of all staff at school sites and the families too.”

Milena Petrovic, school cleaner in Randwick, New South Wales: 

“The government’s response was that we are not in close contact with the students. But we are the first and last people to open and lock the schools. We are essential workers and low income earners. We have to provide a working with children check on our own expense, so then how come we are not close contacts?”

Judith Barber, school cleaner on the North Coast, New South Wales:

“We stepped up at the beginning of COVID for additional cleaning to keep our schools safe. As essential workers we were required to be vaccinated to keep working in schools, but now we’re not seen to be important enough to be included in the rollout of RATs in schools.”

Quotes attributable to Lyndal Ryan, United Workers Union Property Services Director:

“How disrespectful that school cleaners have been left out once more despite being an integral part of a school community. They’ve been on the frontline of this pandemic, keeping schools open so other frontline workers can continue to do their essential jobs.

“As the school term kicks off, large-scale outbreaks amongst students are unlikely to lead to school closures, and only low level contact tracing is to be done with some estimates that 20 per cent of staff could be off sick. School communities cannot afford to lose their school cleaner as they go to get PCR tests – waiting in long queues of several hours and then waiting on the return of results. Or have cleaners hopelessly hunting down a RAT test that’s just not available with the current shortage due to failure of the Morrison Government to ensure supply.

“Where school cleaners are directly employed, they’re being provided with RATs, but in New South Wales the lowest paid and most vulnerable are the ones expected to carry the costs. Having already taken a number of hits through this pandemic – no PPE, training that was severely lacking, threats to cut their hours. Now at this peak moment, the Premier needs to respect the essential work cleaners do and ensure every school cleaner is supported in keeping every school community healthy and safe.”

Quotes attributable to Georgie Dent, The Parenthood Executive Director:

“We need to do everything we can to reduce the risk of spread, and keep teachers, students and school staff safe. The Parenthood and the 75,000 parents and carers we represent, believes it is unacceptable to place cleaners, children and teaching staff at risk by excluding school cleaners from the testing regime. This important health and safety issue needs to be dealt with as soon as possible.”

School cleaners Arou Akot, Milena Petrovic and Judith Barber are available for interview from 10:30 am – 1 pm AEDT.