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Government accepts flexible working recommendations


The government has accepted the recommendations made by Imelda Walsh, HR director of Sainsbury's, to extend the right to request flexible working for parents of children aged up to 16.

The extension will mean that a further 4.5 million working parents in the UK will be eligible to make requests to work flexibly following publication of yesterday's review.

Walsh admitted that whilst she herself would opt for an "open-to-all" arrangement, whereby everyone would have the right to request flexible working, this would not work in practice. "There are a lot of employers that feel nervous about this issue. They have worked the same way for many years and to have imposed an open-to-all arrangement on them would have been a huge step too far.

"The reality is that flexible working always works best when there is high trust between the employer and the employee and if we go too far, too fast, we damage that."

Minister for employment relations Pat McFadden said that the government warmly welcomes this report. "It is a thoughtful and considered report. The right to request flexible working has been a significant success in recent years and it fits with the times and the different responsibilities people have to work and family life."

Business secretary John Hutton said that flexible working will help employers to get the best out of working parents, but warned that bosses must stay in control of requests: "It is important that employers retain control over deciding whether it suits their business to allow people to work flexibly."

However, whilst the Institute for Employment Studies has welcomed the proposals, it also warns that the government now needs to focus on supporting employers through this transition.

Mary Mercer, principal consultant at the institute, said: "[Many company and HR directors] will be focused on the potential reduction in hours staff work and the fear of being inundated with requests to work flexibly."

She added that many organisations will feel they need to accept or reject all requests in order to cope, but this is not how employers should respond.

"There are some steps employers should start taking to get the right balance for themselves and their staff, and the government should now focus on supporting employers in developing good practice for flexible working if we really want to see the business benefits of flexible working realised."

The government will now go out to consultation about how best to implement the proposals. It is thought the consultation process will start very soon and will take 12 weeks.


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