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Calls for flexible working to be available to everyone

Written by: Emma Lunn
The Flexible Working Bill will be read in parliament by Labour MP Tulip Siddiq today, with the legislation backed by ministers from the Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem, SNP, SDLP and Green parties.

The shadow education minister will present the bill under the ‘10-minute rule’ procedure. The proposals would give everyone a right to flexible working from the first day in a job and ensure employers advertise flexibility in job postings.

The proposed legislation comes as data from campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed showed that 71% of flexible working requests were rejected in the first year of the pandemic, an increase from the 53% rejected in the previous year.

The organisation’s helpline also received twice the number of calls from mothers who were experiencing flexible working issues, unrelated to homeworking, between March 2020 and March 2021 as it had recorded in the previous year.

Siddiq said: “There’s a misperception that the country has enjoyed a year of flexible working. The reality is that the majority of workers, and particularly those on lower incomes, have not felt the benefits of homeworking and all other forms of flexibility have declined since last March.

“Four in five workers want to work flexibly, but a shockingly high proportion of requests for this are rejected by employers – often with little or no justification.”

Employees currently have the right to request flexible working, but businesses are only obliged to handle the requests in a ‘reasonable’ manner and do not have to accept the request even if such an arrangement is possible.

In their 2019 manifesto, the Tories said that they would “encourage flexible working and consult on making it the default unless employers have good reasons not to”. Ministers have said a consultation will take place later this year.

Frances O’Grady, Trades Union Congress (TUC) general secretary, said: “As we emerge from the pandemic, lots of workers will want to work more flexibly to help them do their job and manage their other responsibilities too.

“Flexible working isn’t just about working at home. It can mean having predictable or fixed hours, working as a job-share, or working flexitime, term-time only hours or compressed hours. No one should miss out on flexible working options. Government must bring in a new right to flexible working for every worker, in every job.”

Ten-minute rule bills are a type of private members’ bill, as opposed to those introduced by the government. The vast majority do not progress to become law as this type of instrument is not given priority in the parliamentary calendar.

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