Family-friendly legislation 'hitting business'

2005

A quarter of firms in Britain have complained that family-friendly employment laws are having a negative effect on their business as managers spend a growing amount of time dealing with requests for flexible working.

The latest CBI - Pertemps Employment Trends Survey of 420 firms has found that the proportion reporting that the right to request is having a negative impact has risen from 11 per cent to 26 per cent, whilst numbers reporting a positive impact has fallen since last year's survey.

The survey also claims that employers are devoting a great deal of time and energy to ensuring that the right to request flexible working is resulting in more flexible work patterns for thousands of employees.

Since the implementation of the Employment Act in 2003, it found, employers have accepted requests to work more flexibly in nine out of 10 cases. Three-quarter of these were fully accepted, with a compromise reached in some 15 per cent of cases.

Only one in ten requests were refused outright.

More than eight out of 10 firms surveyed now offer part-time working, four out of ten offer flexi-time and more than a third job sharing. A third offer at least three different employment choices

But the survey also highlights growing signs of the cumulative impact this and other new employment legislation, introduced since 2000, is having on employers.

Over three quarters of all firms reported spending an increasing amount of time dealing with related administration, and just under six out of 10 reported that valuable senior management time was being diverted to compliance.

"Companies have made great strides during the last 18 months to make a reality of the Government's family friendly policies. But this survey provides a disturbing insight into the impact that new employment legislation is having which a Government committed to better regulation must heed," said CBI Deputy Director-General, John Cridland.

"Companies still need to get the job done. The temptation to overwhelm them with unjustified employment law, just to placate the trade union movement, must be resisted."

But others took the CBI to task for its stance. Rebecca Clake, organisation and resourcing adviser at the CIPD pointed to extensive research showing that flexible working is a major spur to staff retention and motivation.

"Flexible working can be a win-win situation for their business and their employees," she said.

"Far more employers have found this new, light-touch legislation to be a boost for their firms than those feeling it is negative."

The CBI survey also suggests that employers have been rising to the challenge of informing and consulting employees about major employment issues, something that was made mandatory by the Information and Consultation regulations introduced last April.

But almost nine out of 10 prefer to use direct means like regular team meetings rather than consult through staff councils or through trade unions.

Those companies that have union representation generally report that relationships are working well, especially with union workplace representatives focused on increased productivity, winning new contracts and generally improving conditions - the issues that matter to employees on the ground.

Almost a fifth of companies were, however, concerned that national representatives are likely to take an adversarial stance over the coming year.

"Too often it is suggested that employers do not take the time to involve their staff in the day-to-day running of the business," John Cridland added. "This survey exposes that myth yet again."

"Employers want to work constructively with unions to deliver more successful workplaces. It is to be regretted that not all national union representatives are in tune with this mood."