The national trade union has called on employers to offer furlough to working parents who are impacted by the closures of schools, the latest measure taken to curb the impact of COVID-19. 

On Monday 4th January, the TUC (Trades Union Congress) released a statement which urged employers to place working parents on furlough in light of the school closures announced by the Government.

This comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a new national lockdown, leaving schools all over the country to be closed until, at least, mid-February. With the TUC announcing the Government’s approach as a “series of chaotic statements and a last minute approach”, it is clear that many parents will suddenly face the problem of childcare.

As it stands, the furlough scheme is available for a minimum of seven calendar days. However, the flexible furlough scheme is also still available for employees which would allow workers to agree to work for specified part-time hours. The TUC state that this could be utilised to allow parents to share childcare responsibilities over the coming weeks.

However, the union raised the issue that many employers do not understand that caring responsibilities are a viable reason to furlough employees. Without the option of being furloughed, working parents may be forced to take time off to look after their children or leave the workforce altogether.

This was actually found to be the case during a previous survey that the TUC conducted in March 2020. The research which was published in September 2020 found that, when schools were closed in the first national lockdown, around one-sixth (16 per cent) of mothers were forced to reduce their working hours due to school and nursery closures.

The TUC expressed concern that a similar pattern would emerge this time around too, with mothers’ careers being disproportionately affected. This is especially true for single parents, 90 per cent of whom are single mothers, and may not have any other support in terms of childcare options.

The TUC have also called on the Government to introduce ten days of paid parental leave and a right to flexible working. Currently, parents have no statutory right to paid leave in order to look after their children.

The union have also called for greater support for self-employed working parents, stating that these workers should have automatic access to the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme.

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary for the TUC, 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.