Employers should offer furlough to parents affected by school closures and who lack childcare as a result, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has said.
Schools across the UK have been closed until at least mid-February after councils wrote to the education secretary urging closures amid fears of rising infection rates.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) does allow organisations to furlough staff who cannot work due to a lack of childcare, but the TUC is concerned that not all employers are aware that caring responsibilities were an acceptable reason to furlough.
This, according to the representative body, could mean many employees would be forced into taking unpaid time off or leave their jobs in order to look after their children.
Frances O’Grady (pictured), general secretary at TUC, 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.”
TUC polling published in September 2020 found that 16% of mums, mostly those in low-paid jobs, had been given no choice but to reduce their working hours due to school and nursery closures earlier in 2020.
O’Grady added: “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.”
The TUC also urged the government to go further and give all parents the right to work flexibly from their first day of employment plus 10 days’ paid parental leave each year. Currently, parents have no statutory right to paid leave for childcare.
Before Christmas, the government announced that the furlough scheme is now scheduled to run until 30 April 2021.