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4.5m extra will have right to request flexible working

An extra 4.5 million parents will gain the right to request flexible working when it is extended to workers with children aged up to 16, the Government announced today.

Business secretary John Hutton has accepted recommendations made in the much anticipated review of flexible working, conducted by Sainsbury’s HR director, Imelda Walsh, at the request of the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform last year.

Under current legislation, workers with children up to the age of six, as well as those with disabled children up to the age of 18 and carers of adults, have the right to request flexible working. Walsh advises this right should be extended to those with children up to 16 years old, as she believes the cut off point should be linked to a stage in the child’s schooling, and that, up to the age of 16, children need guiding into adulthood as well as supporting through exams.

Walsh recommends these changes should not be staged, but implemented at once, to avoid confusion. She also believes the Government should do more to raise awareness of the right to request flexible working. The Government is expected to consult on the proposals in the coming months, and in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech, Gordon Brown hinted that the changes will be implemented in April next year.

The review finds that the right should not be extended to all employees, as it should be up to individual employers to decide which workers should be allowed to work flexibly.

“It is important that employers retain control over deciding whether it suits their business to allow people to work flexibly,” says Hutton. “But extending the right to request to parents of older children will allow families to take priority when decisions are made."

Walsh met with representatives of trade unions, business, equality groups and parents while conducting the review.

Coincidentally, today is national work from home day, when five million workers are expected to be home-based.