Nick Clegg has just announced a big shake up with flexible working in the UK which is designed to help the economy get moving. New mothers will be able to share leave with their partners and all workers will have the right to flexible hours. Mothers could return to work two weeks after childbirth and hand over their leave to the father. Parents will be able to split time between them or take time off together, as long as no more than 12 months is taken in total and no more than nine at guaranteed pay. Fathers-to-be will also be given a legal right to take unpaid leave to attend two antenatal appointments.
Every employee in the country will also be given the right to ask for flexible hours to encourage different work patterns for parents and help more women back into work. Grandparents will be able to apply so they could look after their grandchildren. It is estimated that around a million women are effectively locked out of employment because of problems balancing work and childcare.
Flexible leave will be reviewed by 2018 and extending paternity leave will be re-examined then.
According to Clegg more and more men are taking on childcare duties, or want to, and flexible leave builds on that.
The entitlement to ask for flexible hours will be introduced in 2014 at the earliest and employers will have to provide good reason for refusing a request. Currently flexible working can be refused to business reasons.
However will this proposed radical reform of flexible working, work in practice? Women continue to be the primary carer of their children and many are reluctant to give up arrangements that allow them to spend precious time with them. Research in the past has shown that although men do enjoy spending time with their children, the majority find work a welcome refuge from family life. Furthermore in the UK unemployed fathers actually spend very little of their time with their children despite being able to do so.
The changes in the law are designed to give mother a real choice in the work/life balance. However flexible working is not always practical for companies. Increased flexible working could cause major disruption which a small company may not be able to afford.