Minister calls for universal flexible working

2007

All 29 million workers in Britain – not just those with children and caring responsibilities - should have the right to request that they work flexibly according to the government's Minister for Children.

Writing in a new book for the Institute for the left-leaning think-tank the Institute Public Policy Research (ippr), Beverley Hughes said that such a radical move to change fundamentally Britain's working culture is the only way to help individuals tailor their working patterns to the demands of their personal lives.

She argues that extending the right to request flexible working would particularly help parents to balance work around their children, rather than their children around their work, and make it easier for mothers and fathers to share these commitments together.

Extending the right to request flexible working would particularly help parents to balance work around their children, she writes, rather than their children around their work, and make it easier for mothers and fathers to share these commitments together.

At the moment, only parents of children under six (or disabled children under 18) have the right to request flexible working in Britain (around 3.6 million people).

From April, those who are either related to, or live with someone, for whom they have a caring responsibility will also be granted this right (around 2.8 million people).

But Hughes argues that all jobs should be advertised as part-time, job-share or flexi-time unless there is a sound business case not to.

"Many working people feel time-squeezed," she said. "With more women at work, an ageing population and many people aspiring to volunteer or to further develop their skills, government and employers need to recognise that balancing work and life is an issue that's not going away. We need a step change.

"Everyone has a life outside work, not just parents," she added. "We must redefine the 'ideal worker' and accept it is a fantasy to expect people to have none other than work commitments. Many people make valuable contributions to their communities in their non-work time.

"It is unacceptable for family-friendly employment to be an option only for those parents - often women - who downshift in pay and status. Work-life balance is still unobtainable for many low-income families."

Hughes also suggested doubling the length of paid paternity leave to a month and increasing the rates of maternity and paternity pay.

While her ideas received a predictably warm welcome from trade unions and pressure groups, employers' groups were far less enthusiastic.

Matthew Knowles, of the Federation of Small Businesses, was withering in his condemnation.

"'Who's going to be left to do any work?" he asked. "It's clear that a lot of people in the political sphere have absolutely no idea what it takes to run a business.

"The more burdens the Government places on businesses, the less they will grow. At some point, something has got to give and the Government is sailing pretty close to the wind on this already."

But the CBI, which represents large employers, shied away from outright condemnation, saying instead that any extension in employment rights needed to be phased in slowly and carefully.

"It is vital that the impact of this change is fully reviewed before any further groups are included," said the CBI's Susan Anderson.

"Firms must have the time they require to accommodate the varying needs of their staff and it would be foolish to put the continued success of the policy at risk.

"We must also bear in mind the fact that companies still need to get the job done," she added.

Older Comments

Another picece of socialist clap-trap from somebody who has never done a proper day's work in her life - the woman is an ex-lecturer in 'social policy' whatever that is - as the man says, she hasn't got the first clue about how the real worl works and should go back to the planet LA LA along with the rest of her idiotic colleagues before they manage to destroy what little is left of the UK economy (outside the public sector, of course . . . )

Adam London

C'mon - flexible working is fine for high-skill, high-pay knowledge workers as well as things like call centre work (which can be carrried out in the home), but for a whole load of mundane jobs it just means going part-time which equals lower pay. Exactly the trap millions of women already find themselevs in.

Gemma