Business secretary John Hutton has warned of a backlash from employers if the right to ask for flexible working is extended.
Hutton said in a speech last night that putting too much expectation on firms could lead them to turn down any requests from part-time workers.
Imelda Walsh, human resources director at supermarket giant Sainsbury’s, is leading an independent review into how the current right to request flexible working can be extended to all those with children up to 17 years old.
However, Hutton cautioned: “We want to avoid a situation where employers are so overwhelmed with requests from newly-eligible groups that they feel they have to say no to everyone.”
He said that the right to request flexible working has brought significant gains to employees who have negotiated new working patterns with their employers. “But the right to request has been successful precisely because it has been well targeted, weighing up the needs of business with employees who stood to benefit.”
Hutton added that Walsh is tasked with deciding the appropriate age to recommend. “But equally importantly, she is also weighing up the effect any further extension will have on those who are already benefiting from the right to request. Put simply, the more people that have the right – the harder many businesses may find to prioritise those whose needs are greatest,” he said.
Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary, said: “The business lobby has opposed the right to request flexible working at every stage, despite the fact that millions of parents and carers have benefited without any cost to employers.
“At the very least, the government should match the Conservative Party pledge to extend the right to request flexible working to all parents. But it should be more ambitious and extend it to all workers.”