An MP has called on offices and other commercial properties, to allow parents to take their children to work during this week’s public sector strikes. The suggestion, which also has the support of the Prime Minister, comes as the war of words between the government and trade union leaders becomes increasingly bitter as the planned walkouts draw closer.
With more than 20,000 schools expected to close for the day as teachers join the industrial action over cuts to pensions, there are warnings that the strikes could cost the economy £500 million. A statement from the Prime Minister’s official spokesman explains “There is no question the strikes will have an impact. It is not costless. If lots of people can’t go to work because they have to look after kids that has an impact on output. That is a fact.”
The projected impact is based on Treasury estimates of the knock-on effect on the private sector, which in addition to the time parents may be forced to take off work, also includes other disruptive factors. Britain’s ports and airports will also be affected, for example, with Heathrow warning passengers to expect 12 hour delays caused by gridlock and mass cancellations. Business leaders have also expressed concerns that the transport chaos may disrupt deliveries to commercial properties.
Union leaders dismiss the claims and accuse the government of scaremongering and indulging in fantasy economics, as Mark Serwotka from the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: “They should settle the dispute, not go around with scare stories about financial calculations that they really should have thought of a long time ago.” Others have suggested the likely impact will be no greater than might be expected on a public holiday.
As these clashes between government and union leaders continue to heat-up, it was Louise Mensch the Conservative MP for Corby and East Northamptonshire who first raised the issue of children in the workplace. At Prime Minister’s Questions she asked Mr Cameron if he would join her in encouraging employers to allow parents to bring their children to work on Wednesday where it was safe to do so.
The Prime Minister agreed saying “These strikes are going to go ahead. Everyone should be very clear about where the responsibility lies. But I think she makes an important point that where it is safe to help people bring their children to work then I think organizations should do so.” It has since been announced that both Downing Street and the House of Commons will be making provisions allowing ministers, MPs and other Westminster staff to bring their children to work during the industrial action.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4 Louise Mensch, who has three children, argued the idea represents good business practice. “The vast majority of working mother’s in the UK work outside the home”, she said, “and they are going to be faced with the dilemma of having to take a day off.” She acknowledged that it would not be an appropriate measure in all workplaces saying it was a matter of common sense and that the government were talking about encouragement not compulsion. Nevertheless, they called on offices and similar commercial properties to be flexible and make an exception to prevent the country grinding to a halt.
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