19 Apr, 2020

OPINION: Extraordinary COVID-19 parental leave for all European parents during confinement?

Here in Belgium, we are starting our fourth week of school closures and our third week of kindergarten closures. So far, parents have managed as best they can to combine work and childcare.

But this situation cannot go on forever. As time goes by, the situation becomes unbearable in certain families. Many of them approach us daily on this subject, whether it is parents who cannot manage to telework and care for young children at the same time, or particular situations of parents who still work out of the house.

To try to get a good picture of the situation we launched a survey and received 3 500 answers in one week. The main conclusion of this survey is that parents are no longer able to telework properly and care for their children as they would like at the same time.

However, employers’ expectations do not necessarily change: many parents tell us that their employer’s demands on productivity stay the same, even if they (tele) work while looking after (young aged) children. “I have to tell my employer what I do throughout the day. If I had to answer honestly, I would write “dispute management”, “napping the little one”, “tinkering with the big one who is bored”, explains a mother to us by e-mail. “My employer tells me that teleworking must be productive and that if this is not possible, we must take time off … but I don’t have enough time off!” says another.

Parents have no solution. Children under 12 years old require constant supervision. Grandparents caring is not an option at the moment, they must be protected. Paid holidays are not inexhaustible and must still be used during the remaining school holidays. Unpaid leave is not an option for most parents. Parental leave is (very) insufficiently remunerated and too inflexible.

That is why, La Ligue des familles asked our national government for specific COVID-19 parental leave for working parents. We questioned Belgium’s National Security Council on this subject via the Prime Minister on Wednesday March 11, as soon as the first schools closed their doors. We then spoke to the group leaders in national parliament on March 17 and made our request known through the media. Our Belgian colleagues from Gezinsbond (Flemish League of Families) have taken similar steps with Dutch-speaking elected officials. Finally, we issued a joint call to the Federal Minister for Employment, Nathalie Muylle, on March 20. We have received some positive reactions, but without any concrete progress yet.

What we want is a specific COVID 19 parental leave. It may be an adaptation of parental leave, better paid, more flexible, and in addition to the existing 4 months. Or an absence compensated by health insurance. In all cases, the leave must be compensated correctly, accessible to employed, civil servant and self-employed parents. It also must be applicable in the event of telework. And should be able to be divided into days or even half-days (especially so that it can be shared between the two parents, or even taken by another relative if both parents work in an essential sector).

Doing nothing has also a cost. Whichever option is chosen, it is certainly an expensive measure. It is however a one-time investment. It seems to us that it is better to support families in a positive way for a few weeks to allow them to get through the crisis, than to suffer, in the post-crisis period, serial burnouts.

Here are a few testimonies from the survey : “It’s the equivalent of 4 full-time jobs spread over 2 people”; “We are stressed and tense from having to be successful at work and successful as a parent”; “It could be paradise, but it gets closer to hell with the feeling of doing nothing right”; “The brain is consumed, battered by the impossibility of continuous thought and the obligation of permanent multi-tasking”; “I am overwhelmed and I have already cried a lot in front of my children because I cannot manage them and manage my work”; “I am afraid for the mental health of my children”.

Europe is, so far, the most impacted territory. Families around the continent live the same difficulties. They should unite in a same demand: parental leave for working parents during the confinement.

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**DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this article reflect the views of the author, not of COFACE Families Europe**

 

About the author:

Christophe Cocu is the general director of the Ligue des familles and member of the COFACE Administrative Council. To achieve a society adapted to the realities of families, the Ligue des familles intends to transform society on the issues of all families, with parenthood as the preferred angle of attack. For this it implements 3 modes: Citizen and political action which has an impact on legislative and social standards.Services that facilitate the daily lives of parents, based on their identified needs. Information for the parents.

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