With schools throughout the world preparing to receive pupils for an extremely atypical year, janitor numbers in Portugal simply aren’t enough to guarantee compliance with all the new rules of safety and hygiene.
This is the fear of the national federation of public sector worker syndicates, FNSTFP.
Federation president Artur Sequeira has been explaining that the government announcement that it would be hiring 700 extra members of non-teaching staff “doesn’t even cover the number of people who retired this year from active service”.
Worse, numbers of non-teaching staff were already at the bare minimum before the pandemic.
In other words, the country faces a return to school with less than the number of janitors it needs at a time when extra rules on safety and hygiene require these janitors to do a lot more work.
“These workers are fundamental for the system of protection against Covid to function”, warned Sequeira. “But most schools don’t have anything like enough of them. Some schools won’t be able to comply with the new rules. Problems will appear”, he added.
It has already been clear that the system coming into force will require the help of older pupils, who will be asked to help disinfect classrooms themselves.
‘Changes’ on the horizon include canteens serving only ‘take-away’ meals; pupils expected to maintain physical distancing; the wearing of masks at all times; classes starting earlier and ending later.
Parents have been told they will receive clearer instructions nearer the start of the school year on September 14.
But in the meantime, syndicates are airing concerns.
In the case of FNSTFP, Artur Sequeira says around one-third of the country’s non-teaching staff are in their 50s – thus potentially vulnerable to catching the virus.
For now, these are simply ‘concerns’/ warnings. There is no sign at this point that non-teaching staff numbers will be further boosted, nor that demands on them will in any way be relaxed.
Artur Sequeira tells Lusa the workload in terms of cleaning classrooms that faces his members is, in many cases, “humanly impossible”.