Flexible working push by Jobcentres welcomed by employers

Business groups and campaigners have broadly welcomed the government’s move to encourage employers to offer all jobs flexibly – as long as it is not enshrined in law.

Work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper has revealed that, from later this year, every time a new full-time vacancy is advertised in a Jobcentre, the employer will be asked if the position can instead be offered part-time, as a job-share, or another variant of flexible working.

No employer will be forced to alter the hours, but Cooper hopes that a “cultural change” will develop where employers look beyond full-time business hours. The call came ahead of tomorrow’s release of official labour market figures, expected to show that unemployment has surpassed 2.46 million.

“This will give people the opportunity to think again about what could be offered. It is still the employer’s decision what kind of job they offer, but it is a process of changing the culture,” she told the Independent on Sunday. “We want to encourage a cultural shift.”

Abigail Morris, employment adviser at the British Chamber of Commerce, told Personnel Today it supported any non-legislative action to encourage flexible working.

“There is no problem as long as the employer can say no without having to go through a lengthy justification process, often required by Jobcentres,” she said. “Our members have seen the benefits flexible working can bring during the recession but, having said that, not everyone can work part-time.”

Sarah Jackson, chief executive of campaign group Working Families, said employers need to move away from “the full-time default setting”.

“Jobcentres could help employers rethink what skills they require and whether a job really needs to be offered only on a nine-to-five, 35-hour week basis,” she said. “At a time of recession, every employer needs to be fishing from the widest possible talent pool. Our full-time culture means too many talents are wasted – particularly women and carers’ – and the UK loses out.”

Cooper was speaking in advance of the release of a report from the Family Friendly Working Hours Taskforce. The report recommends that recruitment agencies, including Jobcentre Plus, play an active role in encouraging employers to adopt flexible working practices.

Tom Hadley, external affairs adviser at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, told Personnel Today that agencies are already playing a key role in highlighting the value of flexible working to their clients.

“A number of agencies are actively promoting part-time work – they are pushing quite hard at this,” he said. “We are also seeing agencies playing a consultative role, particularly with smaller businesses which might not have an HR function, advising them on the legal aspects of flexible working.”

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