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Employers may face workers’ childcare emergency amid teachers’ strike and creche protest

Employers may face two days of disruption in the run-up to the February election, when parents could struggle to have childcare in place amid a proposed strike action by second-level teachers and plans by childcare providers to shut their doors for 24 hours to demonstrate against the sector’s funding crisis.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) has said that its members will strike on February 4 over what it describes as ongoing failure to eliminate “the injustice of pay discrimination”, with new secondary school teachers earning about 10pc less than colleagues hired before the 2011 austerity pay cuts.

The union represents some 19,000 members at second-level schools, colleges of further and adult education, institutes of technology, and technological universities. Because the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI) has instructed its members not to provide cover for their TUI colleagues, there is a high likelihood that significant numbers of the country’s 700-plus secondary schools will have to close on February 4.

In addition, hundreds of childcare facilities could close the following day, February 5, amid a planned protest by creches, childcare workers and parents, according to The Irish Times. The Early Years Alliance, a group of organisations of childcare providers, staff and parents, said it is calling for a “sustainable solution to the worsening childcare crisis”, which has seen creche fees become unaffordable for more parents as facilities suffer insurance hikes and struggle to pay staff a living wage.

Darragh O’Connor, of SIPTU, which is involved in the Early Years Alliance, has said the current government funding model for the sector is making it “impossible” to deliver “high quality, child-focused education and care”. Parties campaigning ahead of the General Election have promised measures to ease the cost of childcare on parents and facilities.

The Early Years Alliance said it expects thousands of childcare workers, creche owners and parents to take to the streets to march from Parnell Square to Leinster House on February 5. The alliance has not yet confirmed how many childcare facilities will close that day but added that it expects “people from all over the country to march”.

The childcare protest differs in nature from the formal, structured action planned by the TUI. After all, the Early Years Alliance is an umbrella group of various stakeholders in the sector. But issue-based campaigns such as these have attracted significant momentum and passive support in recent years, most notably in the case of the protests against water charges in 2014.

The economy may be more prosperous than it was in 2014, but the February 5 march could garner a high level of participation from creches and childcare centres, leaving working parents with a childcare emergency. This could have knock-on effects for employers.

Indeed, if both the TUI strike and the march by the Early Years Alliance go ahead, on February 4 and 5, respectively, parents with children in both secondary school and creches could face two days without childcare. Consequently, employers with parents in their workforce should plan ahead for that worse-case scenario and monitor the progress of both the proposed teachers’ strike and the childcare protest.

There is a possibility that one or both actions will be cancelled or postponed but, with the election taking place only days afterwards, the respective organisers are probably banking on attracting plenty of publicity and responses from the political parties to their demands.

It would be prudent for employers to have a protocol in place to deal with scenarios such as parents requesting hours or days off at the last minute, unexplained absences on these days, requests to swap shifts with workers who don’t have a family, or requests to work from home. Whether an employer has the flexibility to respond to such requests will depend on the size of the organisation and the number of employees. By mapping out those likely responses now, employers will be better prepared for both potential events.
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