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AOb calls for for third year of sick leave for education staff with long Covid

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Education staff with long Covid must not be dismissed after two years of sick leave, states the General Union of Education (Dutch acronym: AOb). Instead, the union calls for institutions to "grant them an extra year to reintegrate”. Almost 700 people contacted the union to talk about their lingering symptoms.

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The Long Covid Reporting Centre, launched less than a week ago by AOb in partnership with FNV Education & Research, has already received a "flurry of reports". Of the 700 notifications, around 30 came from people working at higher education, a sector in which the two trade unions have relatively few members.

More than half of the reports (64 percent) were made by people who believe they were infected at work. A quarter does not know for sure where they caught the virus. Complaints associated with long Covid include chronic fatigue, loss of concentration, forgetfulness, headaches, ringing in the ears and depression.

Although most classes took place online in the first wave of the virus, AOb director Douwe van der Zweep thinks it is likely that employees caught the virus later, possibly during practical lessons. “Dismissal can have major financial consequences. We ask for more time and respect for the colleagues affected by this”, says Van der Zweep. “Ideally, we would like to see them back in their old job.”

Loss of salary
After a year at home, people on sick leave lose 30 percent of their salary. At the same time, their expenses rise “because it’s expensive to be ill”, in the words of the AOb. People who got infected in the first wave of the pandemic, and who have not been able to work ever since, have now been on sick leave for almost two years. That means they will soon lose their job and might be declared unfit for work, which has considerable financial consequences.

The AOb feels that these people ought to be allowed a third year of sick leave so that they have more time to recover and reintegrate. “We don’t know how the illness will progress, because we don’t yet know everything about long Covid. That’s why we feel that dismissing these people after two years is too soon. We hope and surmise that recovery is possible”, Van der Zweep explains.

The third year of sick leave is being discussed in the negotiations over the new collective labour agreement for higher professional education. “But I don’t want to wait for that. Regardless of the collective labour agreement, we are now asking all employers to postpone that dismissal date.”

The same debate is going on in the health care sector. FNV proposes a long Covid fund for healthcare professionals who contracted the virus in the course of their work and therefore had to stay at home on sick leave. That trade union has received more than 4,100 notifications.

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