Caution over flexible working changes

BUSINESS organisations in the East of England have expressed concern at the Government's proposals to extend the right to request flexible working.

BUSINESS organisations in the East of England have expressed concern at the Government's proposals to extend the right to request flexible working to an extra 4.5 million parents.

The Government announced plans yesterday to allow parents of children up to the age of 16 to seek greater flexibility in working hours, following an independent review by Imelda Walsh, human resources director of supermarket giant Sainsbury.

Ms Walsh said parents with older children faced “considerable” challenges and she was convinced the arguments for extending the right to parents with older children were “compelling”.

However business leaders in the region believe this proposed legislation - unveiled the day after announcing employees' right to request time off for training - will increase the already heavy regulatory burden on employers and is likely to be unworkable for many smaller businesses.

David Burch, East of England policy manager for the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “Many small businesses are just that - small employers with four to five people working in them on average, and while all employers want to be responsible and help employees, they don't have the flexibility of the larger organisations.

“When you have just a few employees, if say 25% of them want to have reduced working hours, it can be quite difficult and most small businesses probably can't afford temporary cover or to take on extra people.

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“One of the biggest grumbles from our members is that legislation is constantly changing and they are having to constantly adapt how they run their businesses to respond to changes in the law.”

The manufacturers' organisation EEF said the Government was in danger of undermining the Better Regulation initiative to reduce red tape with this week's proposals for increased flexible working and time off for training.

Caroline Gumble, EEF East Anglia director, said bringing in more regulatory requirements would create further practical problems for employers.

“Our evidence suggests that whilst many companies had seen the benefits of flexible working, a majority had experienced problems in adapting to the new legislation.

“Giving yet more employees the right to request time off will impact especially hard on the smallest companies who are already struggling to adapt to flexible working and will increasingly require employers to adopt the judgement of Solomon in deciding who has time off for training or who is allowed flexible working.”

The Suffolk Chamber of Commerce was supportive of “some sensible recommendations” made in the review but also feared some companies would find them difficult to accommodate.

Donna Johnston, spokesperson for Suffolk Chamber, said: “The benefits of allowing valued employees to work flexibly is widely recognised by business. However, the Government must recognise that flexibility comes easier to some organisations than others. The review acknowledges that the government should work with employers organisations to encourage and support those who will be concerned by a further extension and we will be doing all that we can to assist.”