New flexible working rights for UK staff

The UK government is to legislate to give millions of employees the legal right to request flexible working on the first day of starting a new job.

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Unveiling the plan on Monday, the government said it planned "to make flexible working the default” after a period when the pandemic has resulted in millions experiencing hybrid working for the first time.

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How does new flexible right work?

Minister for Small Business Kevin Hollinrake said: "Giving staff more say over their working pattern makes for happier employees and more productive businesses. Put simply, it’s a no-brainer."Greater flexibility over where, when, and how people work is an integral part of our plan to make the UK the best place in the world to work."At present, new employees have to work for 26 weeks before being entitled to request flexible working. Making it a right from day one will require employers to consult with their employees over the available options, before being able to reject a flexible working request.In a further move, the government announced that about 1.5 million low-paid workers, including students, would get the right to boost their incomes by taking on a second job if they wish."Surveys show many people increasingly view flexibility as an important or even non-negotiable requirement when applying for jobs, and with companies wrestling with a chronic shortage of workers, growing numbers of employers are having to offer these working patterns if they want to recruit and keep staff," commented the Guardian.

Flexible working options

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said that flexible working did not just mean a combination of working from home and in the office, but could mean job-sharing, flexitime, and working compressed, annualised or staggered hours.A BEIS statement added: "The raft of new measures will give employees greater access to flexibility over where, when, and how they work, leading to happier, more productive staff."Flexible working has been found to help employees balance their work and home life, especially supporting those who have commitments or responsibilities such as caring for children or vulnerable people."Alongside the clear benefits to employees, there is also a strong business case for flexible working. By removing some of the invisible restrictions to jobs, flexible working creates a more diverse working environment and workforce, which studies have shown leads to improved financial returns."

Reaction to the new flexible working right

The government initiative has been broadly welcomed by workers' organisations with Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, describing it as a step in the right direction.However, she said she wished the government had gone further and given workers the legal right to actually work flexibly from their first day, rather just giving them the legal right to ask for it.The Financial Times pointed out that a survey released last week by flexible working consultancy Timewise found that just three posts in 10 were advertised as offering any form of flexible working."The proportion of flexible working posts being advertised is bigger than in the past, but that is largely because of hybrid and remote working in professional sectors such as marketing and finance during the Covid-19 pandemic," pointed out the newspaper.

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