Teachers in Norway frustrated by change to Covid self-isolation rules

Exemptions to coronavirus self-isolation rules will apply to employees in schools and kindergartens in Norway from the new year, but education staff have raised concerns over the decision.

Pictured is a classroom.
The new rules have been received poorly by teachers. Pictured are kids in a classroom. Photo by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash

Teachers have expressed their frustration at a new self-isolation rule that exempts them from isolating during work hours but not in their free time.

The rule exempts teachers and kindergarten staff from isolating when identified as a close contact of somebody who tests positive for Covid-19, but only when at work. Outside of work, they must still isolate.

The exemption takes effect January 1st 2022 and effectively means school and kindergarten staff can teach and work in education but will have to observe the quarantine rules outside of school hours.

“As I perceive the new rules, it is the case that teachers and kindergarten employees are exempted from quarantine during working hours, but that they must be quarantined in their free time. It is unreasonable and illogical,” Hege Valås, head of the Education Association, told newspaper VG.

Being exempt from quarantine during work hours is typically referred to as “leisure quarantine”. The new exemption will apply to education employees who are close contacts of confirmed Covid-19 cases.

READ MORE: What are the current rules for Covid-19 self-isolation in Norway?

Typically, close contacts are in full quarantine for three days before taking a test and are in leisure quarantine until day seven.

Valås said that teachers being exempt from the rules and being around dozens of students but unable to pick up their own kids from school was a “logical shortcoming”.

“We support the government in keeping kindergartens and schools open. It is important for the children, but we have been at the forefront of the pandemic and risked becoming infected. Before Christmas, it was children and young people who had the highest infection rates and there is no reason to believe that will change throughout the spring,” Velås said.

The Education Association head did, however, praise the government for prioritising teachers for testing and booster doses.

The new rules have also received a lukewarm reception from the National Association of Schools, which said it would rather see schools operate at the so-called red level than teachers being exempted from the quarantine rules. Red level measures at schools implement smaller class sizes or cohorts and partial online schooling.

“The provision means that they send all employees in schools and kindergartens out where there is a lot of infection, without infection control equipment,” Mette Johnsen Walker from the national association told news wire NTB.

“The government should run schools at red level until they get control of the infection situation, at least until enough personnel receive a booster dose,” Walker said.

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Teachers in Norway likely to strike over wage negotiations

School teachers in Norway could be taken out on strike in two weeks as unions representing education professionals are unhappy with the proposed wage rises offered by the state. 

Teachers in Norway likely to strike over wage negotiations

A major strike was averted on Tuesday when the municipal sector agreed on a wage rise of 3.84 percent, after mediation talks went into overtime. 

However, teachers could still be taken out on strike as education unions are unhappy with the state’s offer, with industrial action potentially beginning as early as two weeks from now. 

“The teachers have come out (of the settlement) poorly, we were the wage losers last year, KS (the employer organisation for the public sector) made sure of that. Now they are setting up a scheme that will ensure teachers will have poorer wage growth,” Stefan Handal, negotiator for Unio and leader of the Education Association (Utdanningsforbundet), told public broadcaster NRK

Handal added that strikes in the education sector would commence two weeks from now.

READ ALSO:  What is a Norwegian collective bargaining agreement?

Technically, potential strikes would have to be discussed by the central board at Unio. However, Newswire NTB reports that it has been informed that it is unlikely that a meeting of the central board would lead to strikes being averted. 

The National Association of Schools has also announced it would strike in 14 days. Lecturers are also unhappy with the state’s proposal, and the central board of the Norwegian Lecturers’ Association would meet to discuss the next steps.