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EXCLUSIVE: Pat McFadden determined to extend flexible working rights

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Pat McFadden (pictured), minister for employment relations and postal affairs, has staunchly defended the Government's decision to extend the right to request flexible working to parents of children aged up to 16.

With just six weeks to go before the new legislation is implemented, McFadden told HR that the Government was right to proceed with the change, despite the sharp decline in the economy since an independent review recommended the extension.

"We took a second look at all areas of pending legislation because of the downturn and decided it was right to proceed because we want to help families cope with their responsibilities," McFadden said.

"Enabling the balance between family and work is good for everyone concerned. If someone is in the office worried about a sick child at home, there is no sense in forcing him or her to be there."

Business groups have criticised the Department of Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) for pushing the law through at a time when small businesses in particular are fighting for survival. The CBI has called for the legislation to be delayed until October to give business more time to adapt.

"Our view is that employers should have the right to say ‘no'. In addition, we decided that with the severity of the recession, now was not the best time to impose yet more costly regulation on business," CBI director of employment policy Katja Hall told HR.

But McFadden said the new law was not an onerous burden on business.

 "The cost to business of regulation is an important part of the department's work. With flexible working we looked at the evidence and requests. It works for both employer and employee. It is right to request, not have. It isn't an unacceptable burden on business and I don't think it is rushed."

The news from McFadden comes as research shows only 8% of employers trust their staff to work outside the office.

In the run up to April the department is running an awareness raising campaign aimed at employees as well as a direct marketing campaign targeting small and medium-sized businesses in particular. Companies can also turn to the Business Link website, which has recently been updated with tailored guidance, interactive tools and free online training modules to help businesses manage requests to work flexibly.

  • The full interviews with Pat McFadden and Katja Hall will appear in a special Flexible Working supplement in HR's March issue