Coronavirus: Parents call for flexible working hours as schools set to close

Working parents say they are struggling to find carers to watch their children while they go to work

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Working parents in the UAE said employers should let them work from home to watch over their children now that schools will close for a month.

This week, the Ministry of Education said the two-week spring break would be brought forward to start on Sunday and last two weeks, part of the effort to contain the spread of coronavirus.

Afterwards, schools and universities will stay closed for another two weeks and pupils will use online tools to study from home while buses and classrooms are disinfected.

Rizwana Tahiri, who has a 5-year-old daughter, said not all parents would be in a position to book carers for their children at such short notice.

We don’t have full-time help and it is too short notice to get someone my daughter can adjust to

Sanjana Reddy

Ms Tahiri said being able to work from home would still be difficult, with children being a distraction.

“If schools are closed, organisations need to take a stand and give a mandate that parents can work at home unless they are required in the office for urgent work,” she said.

“There is no one at home to take care of my son and if I have a client meeting, I may have to rely on help from relatives or friends.

“When children are at home, you cannot concentrate on work the way you would be able to at the office.”

Clementina Kongslund, 42, a Romanian living in Dubai, said she might have to take her two children to work with her.

“I have a nanny but she will go on holiday next week, so I don’t know how I will manage,” Ms Kongslund said.

“The problem is that schools want to use online learning, which is OK, but who will supervise the children? A lot of mothers do not have anyone at home to help.”

Amani Jasim, 32, an Emirati, said she would leave her three children at her parents’ house while she was at work.

“It is a wise decision that will protect our children and keep them safe,” said Ms Jasim, who works at a government office in Ras Al Khaimah.

“But many mothers are facing issues finding someone to take care of their children while they are away.”

Some residents said they might have to fly family members to the UAE to watch over their children if they were unable to find a nanny at short notice.

“I will ask my mother to come here to help look after my daughter,” said Sanjana Reddy, an administration assistant at a Dubai hospital.

“We don’t have full-time help and it is too short notice to get someone my daughter can adjust to.

“I’m trying very hard to book my mother on a flight this weekend or I will need to take a few days off next week. This will be a very difficult month but at least the children will be safe.”

Some mothers said they planned to make use of the extra time to bond with their children.

Donna Turner, a psychology and counselling student at Middlesex University, plans to organise play dates for her son, 4, but will avoid crowded spaces, including malls and parks, this month.

“It’s important these precautions are being taken for schools,” said Ms Turner, 30, a Macedonian who is pregnant with her second child. “They are trying as hard as they can to prevent the spread.

“It will give me time to spend with my son before the new arrival. For the children, it is fine because the spring break is pulled forward. It will be tough for mothers who work full-time.”

A GCC-wide survey of 1,600 executives by Middle East employment portal GulfTalent showed that one in three Gulf employers was planning to allow staff to work from home to curb the spread of the virus.

Charles Haworth, a regional executive at GE Renewable Energy, a division of American multinational General Electric, said the company was monitoring coronavirus developments closely.

“We have systems to allow working from home, where appropriate,” Mr Haworth told The National. “We would deal with individuals in the organisation on a case-by-case basis.”

Louise Karim, managing director at career platform Women@Work, said some companies were waiting for a government mandate.

“There are so many parents here who do not have help,” she said. “If possible, let employees work remotely and put the technology in place to do that.”

Ms Karim said organisations were encouraging employees to take annual leave, but people do not want to use all their leave at the beginning of the year.

“A lot of children won’t be able to do e-learning on their own. Companies will have to be flexible.”

Source: The National