Thumbs-up for flexible working legislation - but beware the backlash

2004

Flexible working legislation has proved a big hit with British workers, with two-thirds backing further extensions to parental leave rights. But this risks provoking a backlash from those left behind to do all the work, a new poll suggests.

Two-thirds of Britons support the idea of flexible Scandinavian-style parental leave where mothers and fathers can share the six months' paid leave, according to an ICM poll carried out for the Guardian newspaper.

More than half - 53 per cent - also wanted to see fathers given more than the current two weeks' paid leave while a similar number wanted to see mothers given more than six months' paid maternity leave.

Those in their 20s and 30s were – unsurprisingly – the most keen on new rights for parents with support at its weakest amongst those aged over 65.

The survey found that seven out of ten people were familiar with Britain’s new family-friendly reforms. Six out of ten said that the government had got the legislation 'about right' while almost one in five – 18 per cent - said that the changes did not go far enough.

But one in five men and a third of those aged over 65 thought the changes were too generous.

Legislation introduced in April 2003 increased paid maternity leave by eight weeks to 26 weeks, with new mothers entitled to take a further six months unpaid leave. New fathers were given the right to two weeks paid paternity leave at £100 a week.

Along with strong support from parents to flexible working initiatives, the poll also revealed evidence of a change in attitudes toward Britain’s long hours culture.

Six out of ten people of the 1,005 people questioned said that parents with young children spend too much time at work, while just over half (55 per cent) wanted to see an end Britain's opt-out of the EU working time directive and the introduction of a 48-hour working week.

However the poll also underlines the flip side to increasingly family-friendly workplaces. Ignoring the growing hostility of many employers – particularly smaller businesses – to more legislation, the poll nevertheless found that nearly half of those questioned – 45 per cent – complained that time off for new parents places unfair burdens on other staff.