Flexible working requests to be extended to extra 4.5 million parents

An extra 4.5 million parents in the UK are set to gain the right to request flexible working, after the publication of the government’s independent review.

Business secretary John Hutton has accepted recommendations made in the review conducted by Imelda Walsh, HR director at Sainsbury’s, to extend the right to request flexible working to parents of children up to the age of 16 years.

Walsh said: “I am convinced that the challenges which parents with older parents face are considerable, and that the arguments for raising the age to 16 [years] are compelling. This change would offer an important opportunity for parents to have extra flexibility at key times in their children’s lives.”

The review also suggested that any change to existing legislation should be implemented at once to avoid creating confusion for business and employees., rather than in a staged introduction. A formal consultation of the review’s proposals will now be held. Yesterday, prime minister, Gordon Brown, indicated that the government would aim to implement the extension next April.

Susan Anderson, director of HR policy at the Confederation of British Industry, said: ”Imelda Walsh conducted a thorough review of the right to request flexible working, and consulted a wide range of firms. the right to request flexible working has worked well precisely because it is a ‘right to request’ rather than a ‘right to have’. In nine-out-of-ten cases, employers and employees agree a practical arrangement that suits both.

“But extending the right to another four and a half million parents is a big step and the government must give firms enough time to prepare, particularly small firms that lack the HR resource of big companies. The extension should come into effect no sooner than October 2009 – not next April – as the process to make it law could easily run into the new year.”