Flexible working should become the “new normal” after the coronavirus pandemic, Labour has said.
With millions moving to home working almost overnight in March 2020 in response to the first national coronavirus lockdown, Labour wants the right to flexible working to be made mandatory in all jobs – to ensure that “work fits around people’s lives instead of dictating their lives”.
Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader, said the concept would not just be about allowing people to work from home, as they have done to reduce Covid-19 transmissions over the past 16 months, but should also include flexible, compressed, staggered or annualised hours.
The idea is to allow people to spend less time commuting and spend more time with their families in future.
There should be employer leniency around school runs and other family and caring responsibilities, including childcare during school holidays, Rayner – who is also the shadow secretary for the future of work – said.
Labour has placed renewed emphasis on workers’ rights in recent days as it looks to use the summer months to reconnect with voters following its drubbing during the 2019 general election and its by-election defeat in Hartlepool in May.
Officials pointed to the pledge in the last Conservative manifesto, committing to consulting on making flexible working the “default unless employers have good reasons not to”, and argued the government had broken its promise by failing to bring forward a review.
Speaking before a visit to Yorkshire to announce the policy, Rayner said: “Flexible working is not just about working from home, it is about a fundamental change to working practices to improve the lives of all working people.
“Flexible working means work fitting around people’s lives, not dictating their lives.
“Labour will make flexible working a force for good so that everyone is able to enjoy the benefits of flexible working, from a better work-life balance to less time commuting and more time with their family.
“The ‘new normal’ after this pandemic must mean a new deal for all working people based on flexibility, security and strengthened rights at work.
“The right to flexible working will change our economy and the world of work for the better, stop women losing out at work or even dropping out of the workforce altogether, end the sexist assumption of dad being at work in the office and mum looking after the kids at home and improve the lives of millions of workers.”
‘Right to switch off’
The Trade Union Congress found that more than half the UK workforce are not eligible for so-called “flexi time”, while 30 per cent of flexible working requests are turned down by employers.
To create a better work-life balance, Labour said the right to flexible working for all workers should be defaulted from day one of employment.
It called for an end to “one-sided flexibility” so staff have stable employment and mutually-agreed predictable working hours and shift patterns so they can plan their lives.
There should also be a “right to switch off” outside of working hours, Labour added.
A government spokeswoman said: “We have always been clear that flexible working means a lot more than just working from home, and covers a range of working arrangements including part-time working, flexi-time, and compressed hours.
“These arrangements can improve productivity and boost work life balance which is why the 2019 manifesto already contains a clear commitment to consulting on making flexible working the default unless employers have good reason not to.
“We have reconvened the Flexible Working Taskforce to better understand and promote this type of working.”
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