Employers should offer furlough to parents affected by school closures, says TUC

By agency reporter
January 5, 2021

The TUC is calling on employers to offer furlough to all parents affected by school closures. The job retention scheme allows bosses to furlough parents who are unable to work due to a lack of childcare. Furlough is available from a minimum of seven days – which would allow mothers and fathers to share childcare over the coming weeks – and can also be given on a part-time basis.

But the TUC is concerned that not all employers are aware that caring responsibilities are an acceptable reason to furlough, so many parents will have no choice but to take unpaid time off work to care for their children – or even be forced to leave their jobs altogether. Employers can help their staff get through this crisis and give them a financial lifeline by offering them furlough, says the union body.

Self-employed working parents will also need help, says the TUC. They should have automatic access to the self-employed income support scheme (SEISS) alongside broader improvements to the scheme. Otherwise – already struggling after months of disruption to childcare – they could find themselves falling into serious financial difficulty and debt.

When schools closed in March, working mothers picked up the lion's share of caring responsibilities. TUC polling published in September found one in six (16 per cent) mothers – mostly those in low-paid jobs – had been given no choice but to reduce their working hours due to school and nursery closures.

The TUC is concerned that mothers will be disproportionately affected by school closures once again. And single parents – nine out 10 of whom are women – will also be affected as they are less likely to have someone with whom to share the burden of care.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The health and safety of school staff, children and parents and the wider community must come first. This government has failed to keep school staff safe in their workplaces. With many schools closed, many families will be frantically trying to find a way to balance their work and childcare commitments.

“Without further action, many will have no choice but to cut their hours or take unpaid leave from work. This will lead to further hardship and will hit mums and single parents hardest. Employers must do the right thing and furlough mums and dads who can’t work because of childcare responsibilities. And the government should give all parents the right to work flexibly plus ten days’ paid parental leave each year.”

Ensuring that employers offer access to the job retention scheme to working parents will help the immediate crisis, but the government must do more to fix the flaws in the parental leave system. The TUC is calling on the government to introduce:

  • A day one right to 10 days' paid parental leave. Currently parents have no statutory right to paid leave to look after their children.
  • A day one right to flexible work. Flexible working can take lots of different forms, including having predictable or set hours, working from home, job-sharing, compressed hours and term-time working.

* More on the survey of working mothers here

* Trades Union Congress https://www.tuc.org.uk/


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