Minister's proposal for flexible working to avoid rush hour travel is "nonsensical" says FPB

Tom Newcombe , 21 Jan 2013


A proposal by Jo Swinson, minister for employment relations and consumer affairs, suggesting that workers should be allowed to ask for flexible working to avoid rush hour congestion has been branded "nonsensical" by the Forum of Private Business (FPB).

Swinson told the Commons Business Committee during an inquiry into women in the workplace that she wanted to change the default position of parents automatically getting priority over flexible working. "There are a whole range of reasons why people might want to work flexibly. They might for commuting purposes want to miss particularly busy times of the day for travelling," she said.

Swinson added: "Even those with sports or volunteering commitments should be able to ask their bosses for time off, if they make up the hours later.

"They might be volunteering in their local community coaching a football team and have an afternoon where they are not working but make up for it by working at some other time."

However, the FPB's head of policy, Alex Jackman, said the notion that workers should be allowed to pick and choose their hours is "ridiculous" and only highlights successive Government failures to deliver credible improvement to the country's infrastructure.

Jackman said: "Small businesses shouldn't have administrative complexities thrust upon them just because our roads are congested and often poorly maintained, the rail network is bursting at the seams and lacking adequate rolling stock. It's just nonsensical.

"If flexible working works for businesses, they will do it themselves. What they don't need is unworkable suggestions from ministers made on the hoof."

He added: "Just imagine what this would mean on the ground for most businesses – longer opening hours would mean higher office running costs. Will the Government pay for the increase in energy bills?

"Then there's key holder responsibility issues. Monitoring timekeeping would be a job in itself, and crucial to any business is the ability of employees to communicate with ease and consistency. Wildly different working hours would make business-to-business communication much more difficult.

"Maybe the Government should ask schools to start earlier instead, thereby allowing children to be delivered earlier and easing the traditional rush hour for others? Or maybe they should just up investment of roads and railways to address the capacity issues."

Adam Marshall, director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: "We don't need extra powers to request flexible working when business and employees are already very good at organising their own agreements on this. There is no need for further regulation and red tape."

However, Lynda Spiby, head of employment at solicitors Boote Edgar Esterkin, said flexible working could have a positive effect for employers. She said: "Having greater flexibility could benefit employers by enabling them to make the most of their entire talent pool, help them attract and retain workers as well as preventing women leaving work following childbirth."

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Its rush hour travel that's nonsensical

Jon Ingham, Strategic HCM 21 Jan 2013

It's having everyone on the roads and trains from 8-9 and 5-6 for the same 5 days a week that's nonsensical. In 10 years time we're not going to be doing this and well done Jo for suggesting firms need to face up to this.

Common sense and fairness

Carol H Scott 21 Jan 2013

It is only common sense for people to ask - and be authorised - to work more flexibly to avoid the rush hour .....but guess what? People up and down the land are already doing it, and have been for years - where it fits in with the needs of the business which of course must take priority. I fully agree that this shouldn't just be restricted to parents, a situation which is patently unfair, but didn't we just have some legislation allowing everyone being able to ask to work flexibly? Is this just a current 'right' being repackaged?

Well done Jo!!

Magda Bowskill 21 Jan 2013

I agree entirely with Jo Swinson and I am glad that the Government are considering such ideas. The current system is frustrating and at times dangerous, with everyone rushing to get to work at the same time. Productivity is affected daily, by employees spending wasted hours sitting in traffic, instead of actually working. An employee who has flexibility, will always be happier and will often be far more productive. In addition, they tend to have a better attendance rate. Obvioulsy, there are business's where this will not work. But where it can - employers should consider. Flexibility should be for all - not just parents. Well done Jo!!! Magda Bowskill Chartered MCIPD

Only needed for this who don't get it

Jo Dodds 22 Jan 2013

I agree that it's good to hear that this sort of discussion is happening around flexible working. I also agree that imposing it can be what causes the negativity but of course those companies who 'get it' don't need the legislation, it's those that don't who need it. And that is an indicator of much bigger challenges.

"nonsensical" is spot on

Justine Norman 22 Jan 2013

As a provider of employment law services to businesses, and being accutely aware of the daily struggles a business faces, I wonder whether the Minister has ever been responsible for a business, the running of it, and the continued employment of its work force? Flexible working is great and is proven to improve morale and attendance and even performance. But there has to be a balance, business has to come first. It is the business and its continued success, that pays the wages in the first place.

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