Union calls for employers to offer furlough to parents while schools closed

A union is calling on employers to offer furlough to all parents affected by school closures.

Parents are again set to face issues with working and home schooling their children as schools do not reopen after the Christmas break as scheduled.
Parents are again set to face issues with working and home schooling their children as schools do not reopen after the Christmas break as scheduled.

The TUC highlighted the fact that the job retention scheme allows bosses to furlough parents who can’t work due to a lack of childcare. Furlough is available from a minimum of seven days – which would allow working parents to share childcare over the coming weeks – and can also be given on a part-time basis.

However, the TUC said it is concerned that not all bosses 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.

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In Scotland, the Christmas holidays have been extended until 11 January – when pupils will begin remote learning at home. Schools are currently due to return on 18 January, however, the Scottish Parliament is due to reconvene today to discuss furtehr measures needed to combat coronavirus, which could include extending home learning further.

The TUC said that self-employed working parents will also need help and 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.

The union’s report said that when schools closed in March, working mothers picked up the lions share of caring responsibilities. TUC polling published in September found one in six – 16 per cent of 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 women will be disproportionately affected by school closures once again. Meanwhile, single parents – nine out 10 of whom are women – will also be affected as they are less likely to have someone to share the burden of care with.

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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.”

She added: “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.”

Scottish schools closed from March last year and remained shut throughout the summer term, re-opening in August for the new school year. However, rising cases of the virus, combined with fears that the new variant may be more transmissible among children, is making it likely that there will be an extended period of closures again this year.

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