A new parliamentary group on flexible working

A new parliamentary group aims to push the conversation about flexible working further.


Ahead of new legislation granting a day one right to request flexible working, a new parliamentary group has launched to use the legislation as a catalyst for a national conversation about why flexible working is a necessity for many employees today.

The All Party Parliamentary Group [APPG] on Flexible Working held its first meeting this week in advance of  new legislation coming into effect on 6th April which allows employees to request flexible working from day one in their job. Currently they have to wait 26 weeks before they can put in a request. Other changes are also being made under the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act, including an increase in the number of requests that can be made in a year – up from one to two.

Employers can turn down a request on any of eight grounds and many campaigners would like to see the law go further and make flexible working the default. However, they have welcomed any steps in a positive direction.

The meeting was chaired by Yasmin Qureshi MP, whose Private Members’ Bill has led to the new legislation.

Jan Van Zyl from Working Families, which provides the secretariat for the APPG, outlined the cost of not providing flexible working with progression pathways. She said Working Families’ research shows 37% of mums work part time [compared to 11% of dads], but many are locked into jobs where they are not using their full potential. Working part time in lower paid jobs leads to women earning a fifth of the pension pot of men.  She also spoke about inequities in the parental leave system, due to the low rate of statutory pay which means mums in lower paid jobs are taking around 23 weeks of maternity leave compared to the average of nine months – and that many dads don’t even take their statutory two weeks’ allowance.

She said nine out of 10 employees want flexible working, but only around 55% currently work flexibly and only three in 10 jobs are advertised as being open to flexible working, according to Timewise. She also pointed out that education, health and retail, sectors in which women dominate, are some of the least flexible ones and said job design is increasingly important in terms of building in flexibility into different working patterns. Another issue she raised was predictability and advance notice of shifts and she emphasised the importance of line manager training to ensure consistency of flexible working policy across an organisation.

Alesha De-Freitas from the Fawcett Society spoke of the need for a wider cultural mindset in health and education, given labour shortages, and for best practice pilots to be scaled. She said that Covid had opened people’s eyes to the fact that the status quo is “untenable”. Before Covid people had not recognised how many people’s potential was being stifled due to a lack of flexible working.

Jennifer Amphlett from Zurich spoke about their work with the Behavioural Insights Team on boosting gender diversity in senior roles and how making roles open to part-time working and using gender neutral language on job adverts had been a game changer. They had seen a five-fold increase in female applicants in 2022 from when they started the trial in 2019 and an increase in men working part time and in engagement of part-time workers. This year they are focusing on job shares.

*Picture credit: Working Families – from left Yasmin Qureshi MP, Jennifer Amphlett from Zurich, Alesha De Freitas from the Fawcett Society and Working Families CEO Jane van Zyl.

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