What does the Government need to do to support good work?

A parliamentary session on the future of work post Covid discussed what the Government needs to support moves to modernise the workplace.

Flexible Working


Do we need a new inquiry into modern ways of working, given that the Matthew Taylor report on which much of the shelved Employment Bill was based is now fairly dated?

This was the question which was put to two panels of experts at the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee this week.

Lizzie Penny from Workstyle Revolution said many things had changed since the Taylor report in 2017 and Covid had accelerated these changes.  One of these was the rise in autonomous working as a result of better technology and more remote working, which makes for greater inclusion at work. Another is the rise of portfolio working. She said many people are unable to work due to the straitjacket of traditional approaches to where and when people work and more support for autonomous working is a big part of the workplace inclusion agenda.

Sarah Douglas from Liminal Space said night workers were not mentioned in the Taylor report and it would be good to see what good work looks like in the context of night working, a phenomenon which is growing due to our 24/7 culture, particularly in relation to health issues. She would like to see the government giving greater awareness to the issues faced by night workers.

Joeli Brierley of Pregnant Then Screwed spoke of the need to follow up on previous work by the Equality and Human Rights Commission [EHRC] about pregnancy and maternity discrimination whose recommendations have not been implemented. Since the pandemic and now in the recession, her organisation is seeing a big rise in the number of women facing discrimination, a rejection or rescinding of their flexible working which effectively means they are being forced out of work. Another issue is the rise in problems for women being forced back to the workplace on a full time or hybrid basis without being given enough time by their employers to put childcare, including after school clubs, in place. She added that there seems to be a reluctance on the part of government to legislate to encourage employers to do the right thing and a belief that they will do it  when the evidence shows many don’t.

Brierley said that, since Covid, women are dropping out of the workplace due to a lack of flexible working, minimal parental leave policies and high childcare costs or unavailable childcare. On flexible working and the recent announcement that the Government will support a move to a day one right to request flexible working Brierley said there are several issues to consider.  She said merely giving people a right to request flexible working did not mean they would get it. In fact, she said, research shows half had their requests rejected. Moreover, she would like to see any request being granted on job offer, not the first day of employment so employees’ and employers’ time is not wasted if the request is rejected and the employee has to pull out of the job. She would also like to see a duty imposed on employers to specify types of flexible working on offer in their job adverts and an enhancement of the protection against redundancy for pregnant women and those on maternity leave rather than a simple extension of existing protections to six months after return from maternity leave. She said this is because current protections are not working.

Speakers underlined that flexible working is not just working from home and encompasses a broad range of working styles, including flexi hours, annualised hours, part-time working and job shares.

Employment Bill

Three other experts spoke in a second panel at the session – Philippa Childs, Head of the Bectu Sector at Prospect, Professor Keith Ewing from the Institute of Employment Rights and Kate Dearden, head of research, policy and external relation at the Community Trade Union. They were asked if the failure to bring forward the Employment Bill had been compensated by Private Member’s Bills on issues ranging from neonatal leave to carer’s rights and updates on guidance. The speakers said these could not compensate for the need for the right legislative framework to address a range of employment rights issues,  including employment status, fire and rehire and enforcement of labour standards as well as post-Brexit employment rights. Dearden said it is important to address the rights of workers, such as platform workers, in order to promote good quality work for all, irrespective of employment status. Professor Ewing said the right to request flexible working should be a right to have flexible working in the case of some vulnerable workers.

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