As a working parent, life can be unpredictable - to say the least. Balancing the needs...read more
To work properly flexible working must be mutually beneficial to employer and employee.
We all know that flexible working is a key issue for parents looking to balance work and family life, although balance might be the last thing that it feels like. But sometimes flexibility can also cause problems for parents, when it is mainly in the interests of employers. A new survey from the Behavioural Insights Team shows that the unpredictable hours faced by many women working in low-paid work in the UK are among the main barriers to increased earnings and progression. Without predictable hours childcare is difficult to organise and income isn’t guaranteed.
The report from the Behavioural Insights Team also found transport costs to be another big barrier for women, something that childcare closures is worsening – particularly in rural areas where public transport can be poor or non-existent. It’s not just the cost of childcare and availability that matters, but availability close to home or work. Parents may also have more than one child and therefore multiple pick-ups from childcare and school.
With parenting logistics is all. Many women give up on jobs that require a long commute when they have children and take more local, usually much worse paid, jobs. This happens so frequently that it has been named the gender commuting gap. The idea is that someone has to be close to school/nursery in case of emergencies and due to logistics, for instance, lateness fines if longer distance trains or buses don’t arrive on time.
When it comes to predictability of hours, the report says this is often overlooked as an issue. There have been attempts to address this legally over the years, most notably in the Employment Bill which was repeatedly delayed and has now been shelved. Many of the urgent areas it covered have had to be dealt with through Private Member’s Bills. One such is the Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Bill which has been put forward by Conservative MP Scott Benton. It doesn’t go as far as the previous recommendations, however, having dropped a proposed right to reasonable notice of work schedules and compensation for short notice shift cancellations. Instead it proposes new provisions in the Employment Rights Act 1996 which would give certain workers, agency workers and employees a new statutory right to request a predictable working pattern. So far so similar to flexible working legislation about which there are many doubts, given that it is weak and has a lot of get-out clauses for employers. Flexible working legislation has up to eight broad reasons which employers can give to reject an application which cover just about anything.
But just because there are problems with flexible working it does not mean that it is not vital for parents – and many others. Indeed the report calls for more to be done to normalise it from day one. However, it must be mutually beneficial. When it goes too far in the favour of employers, it becomes exploitation.
We see the same patterns in terms of disguised employment where people are hired on self-employed contracts to avoid employers having to pay for employee benefits such as holidays or sick pay. Many cases have gone to court over employment status in the last few years. Gig workers are organising more. This is to be welcomed, but it shows that with every step forward comes the potential for exploitation and we need to be alert to this just as much as to the potential benefits and try to keep one step ahead.