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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