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  • New proposals won’t fundamentally change workers’ ability to secure flexible working – just allow them to ask at an earlier date, warns union body
  • “Right to ask nicely is no right at all”, says TUC

Commenting on tonight’s (Wednesday) proposals from the government on flexible working, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“Flexible working should be a day one right that’s available to everyone. 

“But under these plans employers will still have free rein to turn down all or any requests for flexible working.

“Instead of tinkering around the edges, ministers should change the law so that workers have the legal right to work flexibly from the first day in the job.

“The right to ask nicely is no right at all.

“Not all jobs can support every kind of flexible working – but all jobs can support some kind of flexible working. And all job adverts should make clear what kind of flexibility is available.”

TUC polling published in 2019 revealed that:

  • 3 in 10 requests for flexible working were turned down.
  • Flexitime is unavailable to over half (58%) of the UK workforce. This number rises to nearly two-thirds (64%) for people in working-class occupations.

Carer’s leave

On proposals to introduce five days’ unpaid carer’s leave also announced this evening, Frances O’Grady said:

“A statutory right to carer’s leave is long overdue.

“But for carer’s leave to play a genuine role, it is vital that it is paid – or it will just be a luxury for those that can afford it.

“The TUC is calling for 10 days’ paid carer’s leave for all workers from their first day in a job.”

Editors note

Flexible working: The TUC is calling for:

  • A legal duty on employers to consider which flexible working arrangements are available in a role and to publish these in job advertisements, with the new postholder having a day one right to take up the flexible working arrangements that have been advertised. If an employer does not think that any flexible working arrangements are possible, they should be required to set out the ‘exceptional circumstances’ that justify this decision.   
  • A day one right to request flexible working for all workers, with the criteria for rejection mirroring the’ exceptional circumstances’ set out above. Workers should have a right to appeal and no restrictions on the number of flexible working requests made.

History of flexible working: The current right to request flexible working has existed for almost two decades. It was originally introduced in April 2003 for parents of children aged under six (or under 18 if disabled). Since 2014, all employees with at least 26 weeks' continuous employment, regardless of parental or caring responsibilities, have been able to request flexible working arrangements. Only those legally classed as employees are able to make requests and only one request every 12 months is permitted. 

Despite the length of time legislation has existed it has only had a limited impact. TUC analysis of the Labour Force Survey shows that:

  • the proportion of employees doing no form of flexible working (under the Labour Force Survey definition) has only changed by 4 percentage points, from 74% to 70% between 2013 and 2020. 
  • the percentage of employees on flexi-time (the most popular form of flexible work) changes very little following 26 weeks service when the right to request flexible working applies (9.3% for employees with less than three months service vs 11% for employees with between six and 12 months service). This suggests that the right to request at 26 weeks does not lead to a significant increase in the number of people accessing flexible working.

All analysis can be found in TUC’s The future of flexible work report:   

The TUC: The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together the 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.


TUC press office 
 020 7467 1248

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