More parents to be given flexible working rights

Mother and child

Over four million parents will be able to request flexible working from next April, after Gordon Brown announced an extension to parents’ existing rights.

The right to ask for flexible working practises is already available to parents of children under the age six but the Prime Minister plans to give parents of children up to the age of 16 the right to ask to tailor their working patterns to fit in with family commitments.

While employers can decline the requests they have to give a valid business reason for doing so and 95% of requests are granted. The move should benefit around 4.5 million parents.

The changes are the result of an independent review carried out by Imelda Walsh, director of Sainsbury's, to consider where the age cut-off for older children should be set. The government will now consult on how the proposals in the review can be implemented.

Women and equalities minister Harriet Harman said: "As any parent knows, the demands of parental responsibility don't end at the age of six, which is why we are going to extend the right to request flexible work to parents with older children."

At the moment parents of children under six or disabled children can ask for a number of different working arrangements including part time, working from home, working compressed hours, annual hours or term-time working.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development welcomed the news saying that flexible and part-time workers are more happy and productive and more engaged in their work.

However Mike Emmott, CIPD employee relations adviser, warned that the right to request flexible working could lead to a divide in the working place between those allowed to request it and those not eligible.

“The danger with ever larger groups of people entitled to request flexible working, and a smaller number not entitled to do so, is that a sense of unfairness will damage the employment relations climate and business performance,” he said.