Confusion over the effectiveness and future of the right to request flexible
working is mounting, as commentators analyse the first 12 months of the new
To mark the first anniversary of the legislation the Government has released
new figures showing that eight out of 10 parental requests to work flexibly are
being granted by employers.
But a separate poll by the Maternity Alliance claims that a quarter of
people weren’t even aware of the changes, while many of those asking for
greater flexibility often have to take a pay cut or loss of status.
The alliance claims 25 per cent of requests are turned down, with 90 per
cent of refused parents believing the business reasons to be unjustified.
In April 2003, the Government gave parents with children under the age of
six (or disabled children under 18) the right to ask for flexible working.
Trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt said the regulations,
introduced under the Employment Act, were working and that more than half of
all parents were aware of them.
"Employers have sent a signal of support for flexible working. This
should give parents the confidence to raise the issue," she said.
DTI figures suggest that seven in 10 employers surveyed were now willing to
go beyond the legal requirements and consider flexible working requests from
all staff – not just those with children under the age of six.
A coalition of organisations lead by the Equal Opportunities Commission is
now urging Government to extend flexible working for both men and women.
It is calling for greater flexibility not just for parents but also for
employees who care for ill, older or disabled relatives.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development is also in favour of
widening the right to request flexible working provided employers can refuse if
there is a legitimate business reason.
By Ross Wigham
For more on flexible working go to www.personneltoday.com/goto/23210
CBI director general Digby Jones
warned the Government that any talk of extending legislation was premature. He
said the UK had some of the highest levels of flexibility and firms had worked
constructively with the new rules. However, he said further regulation would
lead to more red tape. "We need to ensure any change is based on
effectiveness and value-added demand," he said.
A report by the charity Working
Families claims too few employers understand the current laws or are
deliberately flouting them. Chief executive Sarah Jackson said the right to
request flexible working should be extended to all staff. "The legislation
has been useful in encouraging parents and employers to think about flexible
working, but too many employers fail to understand the benefits," she said.