I am a prison officer working shifts. My partner just left me and my daughter. I have looked for childminders, but cannot find any that will take her before 0730. I need to drop her at 0615. I requested a 9-4pm shift, but this was rejected. What should I do?
Your employer cannot just give a blanket no to your request: they have to give a good business reason why she cannot have more flexible hours. Whilst a prison is a 24-hour working environment, so are other work places such as hospitals, and many NHS trusts are now able to offer parents more flexibility in their working pattern. Whilst employers may be concerned that they’ll be opening the floodgates if they provide flexibility to one member of staff, if employers create a more family friendly working environment, they retain good staff, staff morale is higher and staff absence is reduced.
On the issue of childcare and unsociable hours: as any parent who works unsociable hours knows, organising and paying for childcare can be difficult if not a nightmare and leaves parents with some very difficult choices. Many parents are left to rely on friends, neighbours and family which means that they are not eligible to claim help with their childcare costs through the childcare element of working tax credit. Others have to resign from their jobs. This is unacceptable and parents should not be put in this position.
Under the Childcare Act 2006, Local authorities have responsibility to ensure sufficient childcare in their area. This duty means that local authorities need to “secure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the provision of childcare (whether or not by them) is sufficient to meet the requirements of parents in their area who require childcare in order to enable them:
* To take up, or remain in work, or
* To undertake education or training which could reasonably be expected to assist them to obtain work.” (Sec 6(1))
Sec 6(2) of the Act states that local authorities MUST have regard for the needs of parents for the provision of childcare for which the childcare element of working tax credit can be claimed.
Sec 11 states that local authorities must ensure there is sufficient flexibility with places being available at the right times (for example, in the early morning, late evenings, at weekends or during holidays), to fit in with working patterns.
You therefore need to speak to the Family Information Service of your local authority or the Early Years Team and discuss your childcare needs with them. The situation may not change over night but as the local authority have a legal duty to ensure that there is sufficient childcare, if you cannot find any to suit your working patterns, the local authority are failing in their duty.
Unfortunately it is often up to individuals to fight their cause both at work and with the local authority but if it means you are able to continue with your job and have peace of mind with your childcare arrangements, it’s worth it.