Teacher unions have blasted Scott Morrison, accusing him of being “offensive” after he announced a new policy they’ve labelled a “failure”.

Scott Morrison’s announcement that isolation rules for teachers will be relaxed has been met with fury by unions, with one accusing the Prime Minister of being “offensive” and using schools as a “babysitting” service.

Speaking after national cabinet on Thursday, Mr Morrison said new Treasury modelling, based on NSW, predicted up to one-in-10 workers would be absent due to Omicron at any one time during a peak.

He said this could then rise by a further 5 per cent if schools closed.

Mr Morrison said it was a “daily balance” to protect hospitals and stop workforce shortages when dealing with Omicron, before announcing a list of new industries in which close contacts wouldn’t have to isolate if they were asymptomatic and returned a negative test.

Among them were education and childcare.

“So it is absolutely essential for schools to go back safely and to remain safely open if we are not to see any further exacerbation of the workforce challenges we’re currently facing,” he said.

“And the health advice is they can go back.”

The Australian Education Union has now reacted with fury, saying that the Prime Minister continued to leave them “empty-handed” of a national plan before the return to school.

“The Prime Minister has failed to set out a national plan today,” AEU president Correna Haythorpe said.

“After flagging a national plan last week, today all the Prime Minister provided was an announcement that there would be another announcement, delivered within a frame that says schools must be open to provide a babysitting service for the broader workforce.

“This is deeply offensive and shows no respect for the thousands of dedicated and professional teachers, principals and education support staff who have worked incredibly hard to provide a high-quality education during the extremely difficult circumstances of the pandemic.”

Ms Haythorpe said they would be advising members not to go to work if they were worried.

“The extension of the close contact isolation exemptions to include the education workforce will exacerbate the health and safety concerns that are already being expressed by our members,” she said.

“As a consequence, the AEU would advise our members that if they feel vulnerable as a close contact or they are worried about the potential risk to others, then they should not be going into a school environment.”

Meanwhile the Independent Education Union of Australia NSW/ACT branch – which represents 32,000 staff – labelled the isolation rule change as an “abject failure of public policy”.

“Watering down work, health and safety provisions in the third year of the pandemic because the government failed to plan is unacceptable,” acting secretary Pam Smith said.

“It means our members will be forced to work knowing either that they are a close contact and could infect others or that they are working with close contacts and could get infected and carry the illness to their own families – this only adds to current anxieties.”

Ms Haythorpe said they wanted a national plan with guidelines that accommodated the needs of each state and territory as required.

She said this national plan also needed to include priority access to RATs and PCRs “with clear and consistent testing, tracking and isolating protocols and procedures to manage staff shortages”.

Mr Morrison was asked on Thursday whether free RATs would be prioritised for teachers and children in schools nationally, liked with aged care and health workers.

“We will be confirming our views on that over the course of the next week and we are working through some arrangements for that,” he told reporters.

“We had a very extensive discussion about that today with a range of views across states and territories about what the best way forward is there.”

Mr Morrison said there were a number of issues to consider but teachers would be the higher priority to get the tests as they more commonly brought the virus into schools.

“If that were to proceed, there are two issues, the testing of teachers, both in childcare and then in school settings,” he said.

“Primary is different to secondary because in secondary, mask wearing and things of that nature is more effective than with younger children.”

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