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10 million parents will have 'right to request' flexible working

And it's not only for mums, Ministers insist

 

Flexibility comment

Flexibility of course welcomes the proposals. The emphasis on family-friendliness and work-life balance are valid particularly when addressing issues of diversity and equality in the workforce.

All the same, the impact of the proposals is to increase the likelihood of ad hoc and reactive approaches to implementing flexibility. It is still based on the assumption that flexibility must be an exception from some other ‘normal’ set of working arrangements.

At Flexibility, we reject this approach. It is not only inherently un-strategic but also discriminatory.

It creates situations where employees doing identical work are treated differently, simply on the grounds that one person is a parent or carer, and one is not.

So our verdict: this is progress, but we have some way to go to develop fair and comprehensive public policy on flexible working.

 

 

 


The right to request flexible working will be extended to a further 4.5 million people, as all parents of children under 16 come within the scope of the government’s ‘family friendly’ approach to flexibility.

The decision follows the recommendations of the report by Imelda Walsh, the HR Director of Sainsburys, to extend the right to all parents but not to the whole workforce (published in May 08).

Commenting on the report, John Hutton, the Employment and Enterprise Minister, said: "This is an excellent report that will give a big boost to busy parents who need more help balancing work and family life. It can also help employers who often find they get the best out of mums and dads when they allow them to work flexibly.

"It is important that employers retain control over deciding whether it suits their business to allow people to work flexibly, but extending the right to request to parents of older children will allow families to take priority when decisions are made."

The Walsh review found that:

  • The challenges faced by parents of older children are substantial, and the case for raising the age limit to 16 is compelling
  • Any change should be implemented at once, rather than a staged introduction, to avoid creating confusion for business and employees.
  • Small businesses generally had a better record on accepting flexible working requests than larger ones.
  • Business would benefit from increased information and guidance about dealing with flexible working requests.
  • Flexible working should not be considered a 'women's issue', with 14 million employees currently working flexibly, and the latest figures showing men make up 45% of this figure. The increasing earning power of women also suggests that flexible working now, and in the future, is far from being an issue that affects only women.
  • More work should be done to raise awareness of the right to request flexible working, both among employees and employers.

Reinforcing the 'Mummy Track' ?

Ministers and government spokesmen have recently been at pains to stress that it's not only about mothers, following criticism both from trades unions and the new head of the Equalities Commission.

According to Pat MacFadden in an article for Flexibility:

"We are also committed to addressing the needs of all workers and we are keen that flexible working should not be considered a 'women's issue'. Of the 14 million employees currently working flexibly the latest figures show men make up 45% of them. The increasing earning power of women also suggests that flexible working now, and in the future, is far from being an issue that affects only women. We will therefore continue to work with business to promote the availability of flexible working for all employees."

The government is taking the line put forward in the Walsh review.  They believe that parents constitute a special group within the workforce for whom regulation is appropriate to ensure their needs for greater flexibility can be met.  The review rejected the idea of extending the right to all the workforce by means of legislation.  but Ministers' comments - as in the quote from Pat McFadden above - indicate that there is high level support from government for a voluntary approach to extending flexible work options to all employees.

The proposals are out for consultation before legislation is introduced.

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