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Government seeks to extend right to request flexible working

Government seeks to extend right to request flexible working

DEPARTMENT FOR BUSINESS, ENTERPRISE AND REGULATORY REFORM News Release (2007/091) issued by The Government News Network on 6 November 2007

The Prime Minister today announced further measures to help working parents achieve a better work life balance, as new figures reveal that flexible working is changing the landscape of British workplaces to benefit business as well as employees.

The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has asked Sainsbury's Human Resources Director Imelda Walsh to lead an independent review to determine how the current right to request flexible working can be extended to parents of older children.

Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, John Hutton, 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.

"We want to do more to support families while ensuring British businesses can compete in the global economy, so now is the right time to consider how we can extend the right to request to parents of older children.

"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."

Fourteen million employees work flexibly, or have done so within the last 12 months, with arrangements including working from home so they can care for their family, working part-time, compressed hours, flexi-time or other arrangements agreed with their employer.

New figures released today show that 91% of workplaces who received requests in the last year approved all requests, that employers largely have positive views about promoting work-life balance and more and more managers are actively promoting flexible work practices.

Minister for Women and Equalities, Harriet Harman, said:

"Mothers often tear their hair out trying to balance earning a living with bringing up their children and need more flexibility at work. And fathers want to be able to play a bigger part in bringing up their children.

"Families are the framework of our lives and matter not just to individuals but to our communities, the economy and society as a whole. We have already built a strong foundation of support for families through the right for parents with children under six to request flexible work, but as any parent knows, older children can need just as much support and guidance which is why we are exploring this idea. "

A formal consultation will be held after the results of the review are published, to gauge the views of business, employers, unions and other stakeholders, but their views will be taken into account as part of the review process.

Key Statistics - Flexible Working

* Over 6 million employees have the right to request flexible working (2.65m of these are carers of adults, 3.6m are parents of children under six and disabled children).

* If the age limit was raised from six years old to nine years old, an extra 1.4 million parents would benefit.

* If it was raised to children under 12, an extra 2.6 million parents of children would benefit.

* If it was raised to children under 17, 4.5 million parents of children would benefit.

* The 2007 Work-Life Balance Employer Survey, published today, found the availability of flexible working arrangements has increased since 2003. Part-time working has become near universal, available in 92 per cent of workplaces (compared to 81 per cent in 2003). There have been particularly large increases in the availability of reduced hours working for a limited period (74 per cent up, from 40 per cent) and compressed hours working (41 per cent, up from 19 per cent). Job sharing and flexitime have also increased substantially (59 per cent, up from 39 per cent; and 55 per cent, up from 38 per cent, respectively). Access the executive summary of the third Work-Life Balance Employer Survey at http://www.berr.gov.uk/files/file42220.pdf

* The Work-Life Balance Employer Survey also revealed that 92% of employers believe that people work best when they can balance their work and the other aspects of their lives. 92% of employers (covering 96% of employees) said they would consider a request to change a working pattern from any employee.

* The Workplace Employment Relations Survey in 2004 found 60 per cent of employers reported some or a significant improvement in staff retention and 58 per cent of employers reported some or a significant improvement in productivity.

* The Maternity and Paternity Rights and Benefits: Survey of employees 2005 found that 47% of new mothers work flex-time compared to just 17% in 2002, and almost triple the number of new fathers now work flexibly. The proportion of mums who have changed their employer when returning to work has halved from 41% in 2002 to 20%.

Notes to Editors

1. Terms of Reference

"On 6 November the Prime Minister announced the Government's intention to extend the right to request flexible working to parents of older, teenage children.

At the same time, he said that he had appointed Imelda Walsh, HR Director of J Sainsbury plc, to carry out an independent review. The review will consider how the current right to request should be extended to parents of older, teenage children, and the upper age limit of a child which should apply.

The review will involve business representatives, unions, parents groups and other interested parties in considering the options for change.

The reviewer will make recommendations to the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform in Spring 2008.

A secretariat of BERR officials will support the independent reviewer in developing recommendations."

2. Imelda Walsh is HR Director of Sainsbury and has considerable experience of HR issues. She has a varied background having worked for Barclays, Coca-Cola and Schweppes Beverages. Sainsbury's has over 150,000 employees many of whom work under flexible contracts to suit their family needs.

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