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In a triumph for work-life balance advocates, the bill – which says all UK jobs should be flexible by default – will get a second reading
In exciting news, a bill that would make British employers offer flexible working contracts by default has made it through parliament for a second reading.
If the British government supports the bill, and it becomes part of UK law, British bosses will have to advertise jobs as suitable for flexible working. And if companies are not able to offer flexible employment as part of a job contract, they will have to ‘opt out’ and give reasons the role cannot be performed flexibly.
In July, Member of Parliament (MP) Helen Whately introduced the bill. It was approved by MPs, which means it will have a second reading, though the date is unknown for now.
Whately pointed out that, while 87% of UK employees would like to work flexibly, only 9.8% of jobs with a salary of more than £20,000 are advertised as flexible. Currently, UK employees can apply for flexible working if they’ve worked continuously for the same employer for 26 weeks. However, their request is granted, or rejected, at the discretion of the employer.
When she addressed parliament, Whately argued: “What if we flip the question and ask whether a job cannot be done flexibly? How many more employers would find that actually it did not make a difference where or when a piece of work was done, as long as it was done?”
She added: “We know how powerful the psychology of the opt-out is, compared with that of the opt-in. Pensions auto-enrolment has successfully reversed the decline in the number of people saving into a workplace pension – ten million more people are now saving for their old age thanks to the policy. Let us apply that same principle to flexible working and ask employers to opt out of flexibility.”
The benefits of flexible working for parents of young children are clear. It takes the pressure off when juggling childcare responsibilities with a career – such as doing the nursery or school drop-off before and after work. By giving parents more control over their working hours, they’re able to return to work more easily after parental leave and achieve a better work-life balance – rather than turning away from employment that simply doesn’t work alongside the demands of being a parent.
Similarly, flexible working removes a barrier to employment faced by disabled people. Research from UK disability charity, Scope, found that half of disabled working-age adults feel excluded from society. Meanwhile, they face additional costs of up £583 on average per month.
The same applies to carers, who are often forced to choose between caring for a loved one and having a full-time job. If employers were more willing to offer flexible working, this would empower more people to take up employment, and it would tackle the social and financial issues that come from excluding disabled people and carers from the workforce.
It’s encouraging to see conversations about the social and economic benefits of a work-life balance taking place all over the world. In a similar vein to the UK’s proposed Flexible Working Bill, the right to disconnect has been approved by law in France, Italy and the Philippines. It asserts that it should be a human right for people not to engage in work-related activity outside of work hours – highlighting how the digital nature of work is too often blurring this boundary.
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