Sainsbury’s human resources director Imelda Walsh to lead independent review into extending right to request flexible working

Imelda Walsh, human resources director at supermarket giant Sainsbury’s, has been tasked with leading an independent review into how the current right to request flexible working can be extended.

It forms as part of a government plan to extend the right to request flexible employment for those with children up to the age of 17, which is set to benefit 4.5 million parents, and announced in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech.

In the Queen’s Speech, the government promised to “bring forward proposals to help people achieve a better balance between work and family life”.

John Hutton, secretary of state for business, enterprise and regulatory reform, said: “The right to request flexible working not only helps millions of parents juggle work and family life, but can also benefit business by improving staff retention and productivity.

“Now is the right time to consider how we can extend the right to request to parents of older children,” he said.

“We are fortunate to secure Imelda Walsh to undertake this review. Her experience in promoting family-friendly policies at Sainsbury’s will be an asset as we consider what further progress we can make,” Hutton said.

The right to flexible working was first introduced in 2003 for parents of children under six, or 18 in the case of a disabled child.

Walsh will report back in spring 2008 and the review will be followed by a formal consultation.

The government’s flexible working plans drew criticism from business leaders, particularly smaller employees.

John Wright, national chairman of the Federation Small Businesses, said: “The government needs to recognise that the reality in a business is that the employees need to be at work to enable the firm to make money, pay their wages and grow to employ others.

“The employer must continue to have the final say in granting flexible working to ensure the business does not suffer. This way employees can benefit where appropriate from flexible working but the needs of the business will always be met,” he said.

John Cridland, deputy director-general at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said: “The CBI welcomes the government’s plan to review when and how the right to request flexible working will be extended to parents of older children. It should beware of increasing numbers eligible to request too far too fast, however, as this could jeopardise the future flexibility of those currently eligible.”

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