Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire that removing the fears of parents as to how they will cope if their child falls sick will be crucial to keeping schools open during the pandemic.
The Cork South Central TD spoke in the Dáil today in favour of a Bill, which would provide for statutory sick pay for parents who need to take time off work to care for Covid symptomatic children.
Teachta Ó Laoghaire said: “In our recently launched policy document, ‘Keeping Our Schools Open’, Sinn Féin identified the key elements to ensure that we can keep our children at school safely and sustainably. We identified very clearly that protecting incomes and jobs of workers and parents is a crucial component of this.
“The reasons for this are obvious. Parents want to do the right thing by their children. In the context of this pandemic, this will often mean that parents will have to keep their children home if they are symptomatic, or if they are connected to a positive case in the school.
“That has obvious implications for workers, who may have to take time off to facilitate looking after their children.
“Many employers will be reasonable, some workers will use leave. The options of grandparents minding children is often off the table due to the risk of infection. Many workers will therefore have no protection and will have to take unpaid leave.
“In most developed countries, sick pay has been extended to such circumstances. It is a disgrace that in Ireland there are desperately poor protections for workers in terms of sick pay.
“Should a parent have to stay at home with a child, the government must act to protect these incomes and jobs. Keeping the virus out of schools necessarily means supporting parents to do the right thing and keep symptomatic children home.
“This is why Sinn Féin has proposed a significant extension of emergency leave, and this is why Sinn Féin is supporting the Bill today for statutory sick pay.
“It is not only Sinn Féin who have identified protecting income as a key element of protecting workers and ensuring schools remain open. The acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn has affirmed this position, noting that ‘people who need to self-isolate should have no fear about their employment… Economic circumstances simply should not be a barrier to people coming forward and getting tested.’
“Schools are open and that is a positive thing. But it is unconscionable that a parent could fear being unable to pay the bills because they have to keep a child home and take days off unpaid.
“If the government are serious about keeping our schools open, sick pay for workers should be guaranteed under the law, and parents should be provided with appropriate income supports should they have to stay at home.”