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Government's flexible working plans do not go far enough, TUC says

by our Parliamentary reporter @TrinderMatt

THE Tory government’s plans to make flexible working available to more employees do not go far enough, the TUC has charged.

A consultation document due to be published tomorrow by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy proposes plans to allow staff to request flexible working from day one in a job.

At the moment, workers have to wait six months to ask for different arrangments, which can include compressed hours, flexi-time or home working, though bosses are under no obligation to act. 

The plan, which is being billed as a “major reshaping of the way people work” after the Covid-19 pandemic, would require employers to respond to requests sooner than the current three-month maximum.

The proposals in the document, which comes from the government’s wider Good Work Plan, launched in 2019, would also oblige bosses to explain why any requests had not been met and suggest alternative arrangements.

Reacting to the plans as they emerged on Monday evening, the TUC said the proposals would not be enough to fulfil ministers’ manifesto commitment to make flexible working the default option.

It argued that some workers have been able to request different arrangements under law since 2003, but, besides an explosion in remote working during the pandemic, little has changed in the two decades since. 

TUC senior equalities policy officer Sue Coe said official statistics show that between 2013 and 2020 the proportion of people who did any kind of flexible working only rose by four percentage points, from 26 to 30 per cent.

“If you look at that, does it say to you: ‘This is a policy that’s working but needs a little bit of fine-tuning to make it work’?” she said.

Alongside changes to the default option, unions have previously called for job adverts to be mandated to set out what sort of options are available for roles rather than relying on workers to make requests.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has already committed to giving all employees flexible working rights from day one as part of his take on the TUC’s new deal for working people.

Ahead of the publication of the document, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “The ‘new normal’ after this pandemic must mean a new deal for all working people based on flexibility, security and strengthened rights at work.”

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