Poland’s agricultural minister has caused controversy by suggesting that teachers without work during lockdown should pick fruit on farms. His comments were criticised by the teachers’ union and earned a rebuke from the prime minister.

The controversy started when the minister, Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski, was asked during an interview on RMF FM why seasonal migrant workers coming to Poland to pick crops are being provided with coronavirus tests paid for by Polish health system whereas teachers returning to schools, which reopened this week, are not.

“These [migrant] workers come to Poland so that teachers will have something to eat,” replied Ardanowski. “I have made an appeal to all Poles, to everyone who is not working at this point, young people, maybe also teachers, to consider working on the farms.”

“Are you encouraging teachers to go and pick strawberries and cherries on farms?” asked the interviewer, to which Ardanowski replied: “Everyone who is left without work should look for such work.”

His words triggered a swift response from the Polish Teachers Union (ZNP), which said it was “outraged” by the minister’s “contemptuous” suggestion, which “undermines the prestige of the teaching profession”, reports Polsat News. The union, which has been involved in disputes with the government over pay and conditions, demanded an apology from the minister.

At a press conference today, the prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, said he had spoken with Ardanowski about the interview and that the agriculture minister had admitted his words were “unfortunate”.

“Any statements that can indicate someone treating the dignity of teachers in an inappropriate manner are absolutely unacceptable,” said Morawiecki. “If anyone was hurt, the minister will certainly take an appropriate position on the matter.”

The prime minister also thanked teachers for doing their best to continue educating children under the epidemic, during which teaching has been transferred online.

Teachers, pupils and parents face challenges as online learning becomes law in Poland

Earlier this month, the teachers’ union appealed to the government to provide free tests to all teachers working in preschools (which reopened three weeks ago) and schools. The education minister, Dariusz Piontkowski, however, says such measures are unnecessary.

“Neither teachers nor children who show any symptoms of coronavirus can participate in classes,” Piontkowski told Polsat. “Their temperature should be checked, which is now a standard procedure. No one is testing public officials or employees of trade outlets, where contact is much greater.”

Ardanowski’s comments came at a difficult moment for teachers, after schools reopened their doors on Monday for the youngest pupils as well as those preparing for exams. As well as some staff expressing concern over safety measures, most parents chose to keep their children at home. In the northern Pomerania Province, only 5% of children attended on Monday, reports Gazeta Wyborcza.

The government has emphasised that the reopening is intended above all for families in which parents need to return to work.

Schools in Poland reopen for youngest pupils

Main image credit: Krystian Maj/Kancelaria Premiera/Flickr (under public domain)

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