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Transparency: Flexible working and family related leave and pay policies

Report type
Consultation response
Issue date
Key findings

TUC welcomes the opportunity to respond to the BEIS consultation on improving the transparency of employers’ flexible working and parental leave and pay policies.

We believe the government should introduce a duty on employers to publish flexible working options in job adverts and give workers the right to take up the advertised flexibility from day one. If employers feel that a role cannot accommodate any form of flexibility, they should be required to transparently set out the exceptional circumstances that justify this.

We also urge the government to strengthen the current right to request flexible working legislation to include a day one right for all workers to request flexible working. The criteria which employers can use to justify refusing requests should also be more tightly drawn and an appeal process should be introduced that allows individuals to scrutinise and challenge the reasons given for rejecting a request.

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Introduction

The TUC is the voice of Britain at work. We represent more than 5.5 million working people in 48 unions across the economy. We campaign for more and better jobs and a better working life for everyone, and we support trade unions to grow and thrive.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) welcomes the opportunity to respond to the BEIS consultation on improving the transparency of employers’ flexible working and parental leave and pay policies.

Flexible working is invaluable in helping people achieve a balance between work and home life and we believe that it should be the default position. As well as offering benefits to people across the workforce, making flexible working available in all but the most exceptional of circumstances would be a catalyst for promoting greater gender equality by giving families a greater say in how and when they share their caring responsibilities. It would also help to address some of the barriers disabled workers face in the workplace.

Over the years we have worked with a wide range of organisations to promote flexible working at national level. Trade unions have used the current right to request legislation as a basis to negotiate enhanced flexible working agreements. The TUC and unions have also campaigned for greater flexibility and enhanced leave and pay for parents and carers. The TUC believes that working people should have much greater access to flexible working options and that legislative change is needed to achieve this.

It has been five years since the law on flexible working changed significantly with all employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service having the statutory right to request flexible working. However, flexible working is still inaccessible to too many workers, often being seen as a perk for favoured employees rather than a normal way to work in the modern workplace. Employers also currently have an almost unfettered ability to turn down a flexible working request, given the breadth of the eight statutory “business reasons” that can currently be used to justify a refusal.

The TUC believes government should introduce a duty on employers to publish flexible working options in job adverts and give workers the right to take up the advertised flexibility from day one. If employers feel that a role cannot accommodate any form of flexibility, they should be required to transparently set out the exceptional circumstances that justify this.

We also urge the government to strengthen the current right to request flexible working legislation to include a day one right for all workers to request flexible working. The criteria which employers can use to justify refusing requests should also be more tightly drawn and an appeal process should be introduced that allows individuals to scrutinise and challenge the reasons given for rejecting a request.

Role of trade unions

Trade unions play a vital role in the workplace. We bargain for better working conditions for all workers which include policies that help everyone to access flexible working, parental and carers’ rights. Only through working together with trade unions can employers create flexible working arrangements that are workable for their workforce. This is because trade unions are able to resolve the conflicting priorities of workers and present the collective views of the workforce on the kinds of arrangements that should be put in place that and are fair for everyone.

A recent TUC report on collective bargaining showed that unions have achieved successes through collective bargaining by delivering better working conditions. The report found that unionised workplaces have more work-life balance policies in place than comparable non-unionised workplaces. In workplaces with union recognition employers are more likely to recognise their responsibility for addressing the work-life balance of their staff, and less likely to say it is the responsibility of the individual staff member..

The TUC are keen to highlight the significant positive role equality reps play promoting equality and preventing all forms of discrimination. For many years we have campaigned for statutory recognition paid time off for equality representatives that mirror the legal status of paid time off for union reps.

Equality reps raise awareness of equality issues such as flexible working, parental and carers rights. They can identify problems early and ensure they are dealt with effectively rather than through costly and time-consuming legal cases. Equality reps can help to develop collective policies and practices that will enable the organisation to reduce turnover and absenteeism. We continue to call for statutory recognition and paid time off for equality representatives.

One sided flexibility

When highlighting the benefits of flexible working in this response, and promoting the introduction of legislation to make flexible working the norm across the UK, we do not see this as including one-sided flexibility, available only on the employer’s terms. The flexible working arrangements that we are seeking to normalise are those which reflect genuine, two-way flexibility, helping workers balance work and their life outside the workplace. We would strongly oppose the introduction of any steps which promote employers’ ability to have an “on demand” workforce, while minimising their obligations to the people who work for them, through such means as zero-hour contracts.

There is a presumption that there is an autonomy of choice of work in the labour market, but the rise of insecure work has brought with it increased levels of forced flexibility

Recent analysis 1 by the TUC shows that at least 3.7 million workers in the UK, around one in nine of the workforce, are in insecure work. Insecure work is not restricted to any particular corner of the country. It is widespread. Across the UK, insecure workers make up at least 10 per cent of the workforce. These include agency, casual and seasonal workers, those whose main job is on a zero-hours contract and self-employed workers who are paid less than the National Living Wage.

Those in insecure work often don’t know what hours they will work (causing chaos with arrangements like childcare) or whether they earn enough to pay their next bills.

Many also miss out on rights and protections that many of us take for granted. These include being able to return to the same job after having a baby and the right to sick pay when they cannot work. Key workplace rights that insecure workers can miss out on include:

  • the right to return to the same job after maternity, adoption, paternity or shared parental leave;
  • the right to request flexible working;
  • the right to protection from unfair dismissal or statutory redundancy pay; and
  • key social security rights such as statutory sick pay, full maternity pay and paternity pay.

We therefore recommend that the Government take urgent action to tackle one sided flexibility, in line with recommendations previously made by the TUC 2