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Flexible working for all?

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Children’s minister Beverley Hughes has suggested that all employees should have the right to request flexible working arrangements.

The call came in an essay written as part of a collection to celebrate Labour’s forthcoming tenth anniversary in power, entitled Politics for a New Generation, which also sets out its future agenda. It is believed Ms Hughes’ views have support among senior members of the party.

The minister’s call coincides with research from the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) which reveals that 82 per cent of Brits think it is difficult for parents to balance work and home life – and 72 per cent believe it will get harder over the next decade.

At the moment only parents of young children or disabled children up to the age of 18 have the right to request flexible working. The right is to be extended to carers in April.

The EOC’s poll, conducted by ICM, shows that spending time with the family of finding time for key relationships is the biggest concern in daily life, ahead of money, health, work and local safety. It is more of an issue for fathers, with 74 per cent expressing the view compared to 68 per cent of mothers.

In addition, 77 per cent said it should be as easy for men to take time off for caring responsibilities as it is for women.

EOC chairman Jenny Watson said: “We face a choice. We can go on as we are, putting Britain’s families under the kind of continued pressure our polling demonstrates, a pressure that will damage both our social health and our economic wealth.

“Or we can take a different road using the benefits of globalisation and technology to give us the solutions to transform the workplace. We can design services around the needs of the modern family ensuring that support is there when it is needed.”

The CBI has taken a cautious approach to the call for greater flexibility. The CBI’s director of HR policy, Susan Anderson said: “Only by having a gradual and phased extension can we avoid firms being deluged under a sudden increase in requests.

“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.”

But the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) argues that extending the right to request flexible working holds out the prospect of boosting British business.

CIPD employee relations adviser Mike Emmott said: “The existing right to request flexible working has been well received by employers, and has successfully encouraged rather than compelled employers to experiment with flexible working practices.

“Employers who are willing to acknowledge the lives their employees lead outside work, and seek to accommodate those lives within the necessary constraints of their need to do business, are finding they can fish in a wider pool for labour. And they’re finding the people they recruit are more likely to be motivated, and to wish to remain employed by the same firm, when they are allowed to work flexibly.

“There may, indeed, be a greater risk in not extending the right to request. By limiting this right to parents and carers, the government risks creating an unnecessarily divided work force, with other workers resenting the rights granted to their colleagues with children or caring responsibilities.”

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