15 May 2008

Government agrees proposals to extend flexible-working for parents with children up to 16 years old

Good news for parents: the government has accepted recommendations to extend the right to request flexible working to parents of children up to 16 years of age. The recommendations were brought by Imelda Walsh, HR director at Sainsubury?s, and the government is now looking at how to implement the proposal.

Once active, this will give an extra 4.5 million UK parents the right to request flexible working.

Business secretary John Hutton said: “It is important that employers retain control over deciding whether it suits their business allow people to work flexibly, but extending the right to request to parents of older children will allow families to take priority when decisions are made.”

Imelda Walsh said:? “Support for more flexible and creative ways of working has made significant progress over the past 10 years, though both legislation and voluntary change. Continuing progress depends on both employers and employees believing that there is a fair balance.

“I am convinced that the challenges which parents with older children face are considerable, and that the arguments for raising the age to 16 are compelling. This change would offer an important opportunity for parents to have extra flexibility at key times in their children’s lives.”

Women and equalities minister Harriet Harman said: “Families are the framework of our lives. Parents want both to earn a living and do the best they can in bringing up their children, but need more flexibility at work.

“We’ve already built a strong foundation of support for families, with the right to request flexible working for parents of children up to the age of six, as well as improved maternity and paternity rights.

“But, as any parent knows, the demands of parental responsibility don’t end at the age of six, which is why we are going to extend the right to request flexible work to parents with older children.”

The review also found:

  • Flexible working should not be considered a ‘women’s issue’, with 14 million employees currently working flexibly, and the latest figures showing men make up 45% of this figure. The increasing earning power of women also suggests that flexible working now, and in the future, is far from being an issue that affects only women.
  • Small businesses generally had a better record on accepting flexible working requests than larger ones.
  • Business would benefit from increased information and guidance about dealing with flexible working requests.
  • More work should be done to raise awareness of the right to request flexible working, both among employees and employers.
  • Any change should be implemented at once, rather than a staged introduction, to avoid creating confusion for business and employees.
  • Around six million employees currently have the right to request flexible working (3.6 million parents and 2.65 million carers), but more than 14 million employees, including part-time workers, actually work flexibly.
  • Flexible working arrangements include working from home, part-time work, compressed hours, flexi-time or other arrangements agreed with employers. These arrangements allow for people to grow their careers and remain in the workforce, and reflect the government’s commitment to helping people to make the most of their potential.

According to 91% BERR’s third Work-Life Balance Survey, of workplaces who received requests in the last year approved them all employers are mainly positive about promoting work-life balance.

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