Covid-19: One in five parents treated unfairly at work


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Approximately 2.6 million parents feel they have been treated less fairly at work because of their childcare responsibilities since the coronavirus crisis began.

A YouGov poll asked working parents whether they agree with the following statement: “I have felt treated less fairly at work because of my childcare responsibilities” since the Covid-19 outbreak in the UK began. One in five respondents answered “strongly agree” or “tend to agree”.

There is currently no legal or regulatory mechanism to defend or protect working parents in the way the Prime Minister has suggested” – Jane van Zyl, Working Families

Work-life balance charity Working Families, which commissioned the poll, is calling on the government to add caring responsibilities to the list of protected characteristics in the Equality Act.

Mothers were more likely to agree with the statement than fathers (22% vs 17%) and part-time workers were much more likely to agree with the statement than full-time workers (29% vs 15%).

Jane van Zyl, chief executive of Working Families, said: “At the height of lockdown, the Prime Minister made clear that parents must be ‘defended and protected’ if they are unable to work because they cannot get the childcare they need. But there is currently no legal or regulatory mechanism to defend or protect working parents in the way the Prime Minister has suggested.

“In terms of childcare, we are certainly not back to ‘business as usual’ – since schools reopened in September, parents have continued to struggle, managing staggered school times, gaps in wraparound care provision, and the ever-present risk of being required to self-isolate.”

The report, Flexistability: Building Back Better for the UK’s Working Families, found that, of the 45% of parents who weren’t working flexibly prior to the pandemic, nearly four out of five said that the reason was because managers had told them that flexible working wasn’t possible. Many parents felt their employer’s cultural resistance to working remotely had been broken down by the pandemic.

Working Familes is recommending that employers should publicly report annually on how many jobs are advertised on a part-time and flexible basis, with the flexible working options specified (as a proportion of all jobs advertised, by salary level). They should also have to declare how many staff are recruited on a part-time and flexible basis.

It also recommends that the right to request flexible working should be made a day-one right, and the business reasons for refusing a request reviewed and strengthened in light of Covid-19.

Van Zyl added: “With millions of parents facing unfair treatment at work just for having caring responsibilities – and waves of Covid-related redundancies around the corner– now is the time for the government to act and make being a parent or carer a protected characteristic.”

The report says that  parents who are simply unable to work in their usual way as their childcare arrangements are unavailable should be ‘defended and protected’. The best way to achieve this would be to add caring responsibilities to the list of protected characteristics in the Equality Act, providing a legal foundation on which to tackle workplace discrimination against mothers and fathers.

It criticised the shared parental leave for not always supporting fathers and partners’ aspirations, “perpetuating the idea of mothers as carers, underpinning gender inequality.”

Working Families are calling for:

  • Mothers would still have the option to transfer some of their maternity leave and pay to their partner after taking two weeks of leave. However, 12 weeks is reserved for her and must be used in a block within 52 weeks of the birth
  • Fathers and partners are entitled to an additional 12 weeks of non-transferable partner’s leave. It must be used in a block within 52 weeks of the birth
  • The remainder of a mother’s maternity leave (39 weeks) can be transferred to her partner in up to three blocks – two blocks of paid leave (13 weeks) and one block of unpaid leave (12 weeks).

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