Headlines: April 6th, 2004

Public sector workers are more likely to get the kind of flexible working arrangements they want than their colleagues in private industry. The claim comes from the biggest public sector union – UNISON – which also says workers are more likely to have their request for flexible working granted, if they belong to a union.The findings are based on a UNISON survey that found nine out of ten branches had flexible working arrangements that were more favourable than the statutory minimum. The findings contrast with those in a study by the Maternity Alliance drawn up to mark the anniversary of legislation giving parents the right to ask for flexible working. It found that a quarter of parents were forced to accept worse terms and conditions in return for flexible hours.

The Alliance’s study will form the basis of discussions today at an event called ‘Happy Anniversary? The Right to Request Flexible Work One Year On’. Speakers will include the Minister for Employment Relations, Gerry Sutcliffe and Frances O’Grady, the Deputy General Secretary of the TUC. The results showed that 25 per cent of parents did not know they had a ‘right’ to ask for flexible work when their children were young and the same number had had requests refused. Almost half of parents said their employer did not know or did not follow the correct procedure for considering their request for flexible work.

Dave Prentis, the UNISON General Secretary said the union had originally been sceptical about the impact of the legislation but it was clear that parents were keen to take up the opportunity and many employers were planning to improve their family-friendly policies over the coming year. “In addition if you are in a union and working in the public sector you are more likely to get flexible working when you ask for it,” he said. He said the challenge was for unions, employers and the government to work together to ensure parents knew their rights, and to find solutions that benefited the worker and service alike.