A trade union has urged the Stormont Executive to ensure robust supports are in place for health workers.
Unison made the plea as Northern Ireland faces four weeks of additional restrictions aimed at halting a recent surge in cases of coronavirus.
The union has pressed the Department of Health to make sure health workers are not left at a financial loss if they need to take time off to care for children as a result of school closures, emphasising that the health workforce is “predominantly female”, and that thousands have caring responsibilities.
These essential workers should not have to choose between paying a bill or using that money to pay for additional costs for childcareJames Large, Unison
James Large, Unison Northern Ireland’s incoming joint convenor for health and Ulster Hospital branch secretary, said its members cannot work from home.
“It is no surprise huge numbers of staff cannot work from home in the health service and are now struggling to find alternatives for caring arrangements,” he said.
“Our members – nurses, domiciliary care staff, caterers, domestics and health care assistants cannot undertake these roles at home. These roles are also low paid.
“These essential workers should not have to choose between paying a bill or using that money to pay for additional costs for childcare.
“These same workers have also had to use annual/unpaid leave or work hours back when a child has been sent home from school to isolate after positive cases in the class bubble.
“This must stop, our members simply can’t afford this and Christmas is just around the corner.”
Nuala Conlon, regional organiser, added: “Unison call on health employers to be as flexible as possible without having to resort to asking staff to use annual leave or take unpaid leave.
“At a time when Northern Ireland has the tightest restrictions across these islands we should also have the most robust supports for these essential health workers.”