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Why grandparents are crucial to keeping working families on track

Ruth Cross Guest
Published date
Working grandparents need to know the trade union movement understands the reality of their daily lives and the challenges they face

Now that the school summer holidays are underway in Scotland and Northern Ireland, many workers will be relying on grandparents to help with childcare.

Yet policy makers and employers often overlook the fact that many grandparents are juggling caring with paid work.

One in five Usdaw members is an older woman, over half of whom are regularly looking after grandchildren.

A declining birth rate, an ageing population and longer life expectancy means that the number of older workers is rising.

Working round the clock

Older workers are three times more likely to be employed in the retail sector than people aged 16-24.

Working there is physically demanding - long periods of standing, stretching and heavy lifting (in a four-hour shift, a checkout operator moves the equivalent of a ton in weight across the checkout).

After a day or a night on the shop floor, older women are returning home to start the next shift – caring for grandchildren so parents can go to work.

In the words of Usdaw member Dawn: "I recently changed to night shift so my daughter could go out to work in the daytime. I get home at 7.00 am and give the grandchildren their breakfast. I try to have a nap in the daytime when they sleep."

Working grandparents don’t want to be told they are unsung heroes. What they need is to know that the trade union movement understands the reality of their daily lives, the challenges they face and that we have something to offer.

Older women workers say their caring commitments are less well recognised by employers. They feel pressured to give up family-friendly shifts, while requests for time off to care are met with disbelief or a demand for proof of caring commitments.

The TUC’s Age Immaterial Report gathered vital information about the challenges facing older women at work and contains policy recommendations including stronger rights for working grandparents.

Sharpening our appeal

Negotiating better rights for grandparents continues although as the TUC's Equality Audit shows unions face a very challenging climate for bargaining on equality.

Unions are employing a range of strategies to reach out to working grandparents and let them know we have something to offer.

Usdaw has organised national campaign days with a specific focus on rights for grandparents..

Using petitions, pledge cards, leaflets and giveaways, Usdaw reps are working hard to show grandparents that we’re there for them.

By offering collective solutions to the challenges grandparents face, we have successfully recruited new members, informed grandparents about their rights and raised the profile of the union.

Campaign days can also influence the approach that employers take to managing the work-life balance issues grandparents face by putting the onus on the employer to do the right thing the next time a grandparent needs time off work or a change to their hours.

Grandparents need our thanks but also stronger rights at work and trade union organisation.

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