TUC urges for temporary right to furlough for working parents

Of the over 50,000 working parents who responded to a Trades Union Congress (TUC) survey on the challenges of managing work and childcare during lockdown, nearly three-quarters (71%) of those who have applied for furlough following the latest school closures have had their requests turned down. Even more, 78% said that they had not been offered furlough by their employers.

While the Chancellor’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme currently allows employers to furlough parents who are unable to work due to a lack of childcare, the TUC says that many parents are missing out on this financial lifeline as the scheme is not promoted to parents. Further to this, and of those who responded to the survey, 40% were unaware that the furlough scheme was available to parents affected by school or nursery closures.

The union body is also concerned that some employers are refusing to furlough those who request it, leaving parents in “an impossible situation” whereby they are forced to reduce their hours at work, take unpaid leave and annual leave to cope, or leave their job altogether. Many respondents told the TUC that they were struggling to carry out their jobs as normal while balancing childcare and home-schooling.

The survey also found that almost half (48%) of the respondents were worried about being treated negatively by their employers because of their childcare responsibilities. A similar percentage (44%) said that they were worried about the impact having to take time off work would have on their household’s finances.

As a result of this, the TUC is calling on government ministers to introduce a temporary right to furlough for groups who cannot work because of coronavirus restrictions – both parents and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable and required to shield. It also wants ministers to clarify that furlough can be used by both private and public sector employers for these purposes. Currently, employers with publicly funded wage costs are not expected to use furlough.

Despite this, it is important to remember that there still appears to be a difference in the treatment of furlough for employees who are shielding and those who have childcare problems because of school closure. There is no requirement for employers to be closed or experiencing a downturn in demand to furlough those shielding. Current guidance does not extend that flexibility to employers in relation to those with childcare problems.

Until further guidance or legal change is forthcoming which provides a ‘right to be furloughed’, furlough remains at the employer’s discretion if, first, they can demonstrate that their operations are affected by the virus. This call from the TUC may mean though, that employers need to ready themselves for a response from the Government, whatever that may be.

In all, employers should keep up to date with government guidance and prepare for any possible outcome – whether that is having to now furlough affected parents on their workforce, or disregarding the TUC’s call and continue to furlough staff based on business needs and their discretion.

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