Wednesday, 23 March 2011

You called this one right, Vince!

There has been a surge of criticism aimed at the government for shelving plans to extend the 'right to request' flexible working. It's not only come from others campiagning for more flexible working, but also from the Labour party.

The plans to ditch the extension came out at the start of the week, and were reiterated in today's Budget announcement. Labour leader Ed Miliband fiercely denounced it as an attack on working families.

I should be agreeing with him, shouldn't I?

I don't. And here's why.

1) In the process, the government has restated its commitment to extending the right to request to all workers - which we have always argued is the right approach.

The planned extension was just tinkering at the edges anyway, a timid delaying measure intended to avoid more substantial change. Changing eligibility from parents with children under 17 to parents of children under 18 was really going to make very little difference, and it was getting some businesses into a bit of a tizz about bureaucracy.

So why tinker? Just go straight for the real thing!

2) I've always thought the 'right to request' for parents - and not others - was inherently discriminatory. Positive discrimination, perhaps, but still hard to justify. You can end up with situations where people are doing exactly the same job, but only parents (one third of the workforce) are allowed to work flexibly. This can't be right.

3) It's funny how people can become fixated on a process, no matter how odd that process is when you stand back and look at it. I don't really buy into the 'right to request' concept, when it comes down to it.

Apart from being (at the moment) discriminatory, it also invites a reactive, ad hoc, case-by-case approach to implementing flexible working - rather than a proactive and strategic one.

So, rather than carp at ditching a minor adjustment, I think we should them give them 2 cheers for planning to extend the right to all workers.