Efforts to make it easier for employees to request flexible working have cleared the Commons.

Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi put forward proposals in a Private Member’s Bill which she said would help secure more flexible working “where it meets the needs of both individuals and businesses”.

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill seeks to amend existing legislation to allow employees to make two requests for flexible working in a 12-month period; to no longer have to explain the impact on their employer, and to require consultation before an application is refused.

Both the Conservatives and Labour committed to make flexible working the default state in their 2019 election manifestos.

Qureshi, the MP for Bolton South East, is a shadow equalities minister but was speaking from the backbenches.

She told the Commons: “By removing these invisible restrictions, flexible working fosters a more diverse workforce and the evidence shows that this leads to improved financial returns for businesses as well.”

She said the Bill would “introduce a duty on employers to consult with their employees before rejecting their flexible working request”.

Qureshi added: “This measure will prevent employers from defaulting to ‘no’ without first engaging with the employee when responding to individual requests.”

The change “focuses on setting the right conditions for employees and employers to have an open-minded conversation about what flexible working arrangements might be possible in any given context”.

Speaking to MPs, Qureshi said: “I’m very pleased that alongside this Bill the government has stayed true to its commitment to me and made the right to request flexible working apply from day one of employment.

“Taken as a package, these measures will help to secure more flexible working where it meets the needs of both individuals and businesses and encourages more constructive dialogue about different ways of working.”

The Labour frontbench had questioned the government’s commitment to make the right to request flexible working a day-one right for employees during the Bill’s committee stage.

Business minister Kevin Hollinrake insisted the government had made this pledge when responding to an official consultation on the matter last year and confirmed that ministers would back the day-one right.

Hollinrake told the Commons: “This consultation was primarily focused on adjustments to the right to request flexible working. We published our response to that consultation at the end of last year. I am pleased the measures in this Bill reflect what we set out in our response. Most importantly, this becomes a day-one right.

“These are important changes that will facilitate better access to all forms of flexible working whether that relates to when, where or how people work.”

The business minister also told MPs that the Bill would not create “a right to impose on businesses’ flexible working”.

He said: “I think that would be absolutely the wrong thing to do. We know there are many burdens on businesses right now, not least the challenges around the cost of living. To add further burdens would be, in our view, a mistake if they were something that would be an imposition.”

The Bill will now face further scrutiny in the House of Lords at a later date, as yet unconfirmed.

Extracted from The E and T IET website - read more here 

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