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Employers should furlough parents facing last-minute school closures

Paloma Kubiak
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Paloma Kubiak

Employers should ‘do the right thing’ and offer furlough to working parents following the last-minute decision by the government to close schools due to the ongoing pandemic.

Working parents are facing big challenges following the government announcement last week that some schools would not open in the new term for all children.

This was then followed by a U-turn on closing schools in London.

Given the series of changing statements from the government, a leading trade union is calling on employers to offer furlough to working parents affected by the last-minute school closures who are now without childcare.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) said the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough) allows bosses to put parents on ‘standby’ if they can’t work due to a lack of childcare.

Furlough is available from a minimum of seven days – which would allow mums and dads to share childcare over the coming weeks – and can also be given on a part-time basis, it explained.

However, the TUC added that not all bosses are aware that caring responsibilities are an acceptable reason for furlough, so many parents will have no choice but to take unpaid leave to look after children or even leave their jobs altogether.

It also suggested that the self-employed should have access to the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) to help them avoid falling into financial difficulty and debt.

Further, the union is also 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.

It also wants to see a day one right to flexible work such as predictable or set hours, working from home, job-sharing, compressed hours and term-time working in a bid to fix the flaws in the parental leave system.

Mothers disproportionately affected by closures again

It comes as its research revealed that back in March when schools closed, mothers picked up the bulk of childcare.

One in six – mainly those in low paid jobs – were forced to reduce their hours due to school and nursery closures.

As such, it is concerned that mums will be disproportionately affected by school closures once again. And single parents – 9 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.

TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “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.”

Related: See YourMoney.com’s School closures, what it means for working parents for more information.