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Teacher strikes: Rights and options for disrupted working parents

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Teachers in England and Wales have voted to strike on various dates in February and March. If you’re a working parent who’ll be affected, here are your rights and your options.

As workers across industries carry out strike action over pay and conditions, teachers will also be joining the picket line next week.

The National Education Union said a national strike of teachers will take place across England and Wales on 1 February, while members in Wales will strike on 14 February.

Strike action will then take place in various regions on a further three dates in February and March with national strikes due to take place on 15 and 16 March as the union seeks to secure an above-inflation pay rise for members.

The strike action will affect 23,400 schools in England and Wales.

The Government said in the event of strike action, school leaders or the local authority which manages the school will take “reasonable steps to keep the school open for as many pupils as possible”.

It added that in some schools there may be little or no impact from strike action, but in others, “it may mean that changes are made to the way they operate”.

Further, unless you’ve been informed that your child’s school is closed or can’t provide them a place, you still have a legal duty to send in your child/children.

Working parent rights and options

For working parents who may be impacted by the strike action, Kate Palmer, HR advice & consultancy director at Peninsula, said: “This industrial action is likely to cause major disruption to working parents as well as their employers, should they be unable to source alternative childcare arrangements on these dates.

“Employers should start conversations with their staff now to see what arrangements will need to be made. If no alternative childcare is available then employers should consider flexible working arrangements, such as working from home.

“Disruption to normal childcare routines does not necessarily mean that a parent cannot work. As we saw during the pandemic, working from home can be a viable option for many, and not having to take time off means there is no impact on pay.”

However, Palmer acknowledged that working from home is not possible for many jobs and depending on the ages and care needs of an employee’s child(ren), “it’s not always a viable option”.

She said: “If this is the case, then employers can look at encouraging staff to take annual leave, time off in lieu (TOIL) or unpaid leave.

“The right to time off for dependants usually only covers emergency situations so might not apply here. Any strike action requires advance notice, which means working parents have time to prepare alternative childcare arrangements.”

Palmer added that if an employee has worked at the company for at a least a year, they could be eligible to take parental leave.

“However, this requires giving the employer 21 days’ notice and needs to be taken in blocks of at least one week, unless the child is disabled. It is also unpaid, so may not be the most efficient option.

“It’s important for all parties to start planning now in order to minimise disruption on the days when strike action is taking place,” she said.

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