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Workers must have legal right to flexible work from day one, TUC demands

Poll finds half of working mothers' requests for flexibility are refused

ALL workers must have the legal right to flexible work from day one, the TUC has urged after a poll revealed that half of working mums’ requests for flexibility are refused. 

The poll of 13,000 mothers, carried out by the TUC and campaign group Mother Pukka, found that one in two reported having their request for flexible working turned down or only partly accepted. 

And the majority of women — 86 per cent — who had their request accepted said they faced discrimination and disadvantages at work as a result.

While employers have had the legal right to request flexible working for the past 20 years, the TUC said the poll shows this system was “broken.” 

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s time to make flexible working the norm as we emerge from the pandemic.

“It’s the best way to keep women in work and to close the gender pay gap.  

“But the current system is broken. Employers still have free rein to turn down requests for flexible working.

“And women are too scared to ask for flexible working at job interviews, for fear of being discriminated against.”

The survey found that more than 40 per cent of women did not ask for flexible work over fears of discrimination, while the same number didn’t because they were worried about their boss’s reaction.

Mother Pukka founder Anna Whitehouse said she quit her job after being refused a request for flexible work. 

“I asked to arrive 15 minutes earlier so I could leave 15 minutes earlier to make nursery pick-up,” she said.

“My request was denied for fear it might ‘open the floodgates’ to others seeking flexibility.

“There is a break in the floodgates, but the legal right to flexible working must be made available from the get-go if we’re going to finally change this outdated and discriminative system for good.” 

Under current legislation, all employees can make a flexible working request after 26 weeks in a job. One request can be made every 12 months and there is no right to appeal. 

Last month, the government proposed introducing the right to request flexible working from day one and requiring companies to “think about what alternatives they could offer.”

But the TUC argues this does not go far enough, urging instead for employers to publish flexible working options in job ads, rather than requiring workers to ask for it.  

Its poll showed 99 per cent of women support this call, with the same number saying they would be more likely to apply for a job if it included the specific types of flexible working available in the advert. 

The TUC also called for workers to be given a “genuine” legal right to flexible work from the first day in the job, the right to appeal rejections and the removal of limits on the number of times they can ask for flexible working arrangements. 

Ms O’Grady added: “Ministers need to do more than just tinker with a flawed system.

“They need to change the law so that all jobs are advertised with flexible options clearly stated, and all workers have the legal right to work flexibly from their first day in a job.”

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