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Thursday, 29 November, 2001, 12:49 GMT
Flexible hours: A fair deal for working parents?
Proposals that will allow parents to request shorter or more flexible working hours are to be announced on Tuesday.

It is understood the government has ruled out giving mothers and fathers an automatic right to work flexi-time. But parents will have the right to go to a tribunal if their employers turn down their requests.

The move follows recent cases that have highlighted the problems faced by parents who find their work hours clash with childcare responsibilities.

Ministers believe that up to half-a-million people could take advantage of the new rights - and that most of them will be granted more flexible hours.

But campaigners say the proposals do not go far enough as employers will be able to turn down parents' requests if they can show that such requests would damage their business.

Do you think this is a positive move for working parents? Will you be personally affected by this? What more can be done to accommodate parents juggling childcare responsibilities with a busy career?

This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.

Your reaction:

Why do some people believe that having a child automatically elevates you to a higher social strata than those who do not wish to have children?

Andy, UK
Why do some people believe that having a child automatically elevates you to a higher social strata than those who do not wish to have children? Childless adults already have to suffer other people's diabolically behaved kids in restaurants, shops, trains, beaches and countless other public places. Why should we have our working lives disrupted as well? Parents please note, we are not all in love with your offspring. Your children's needs (or what you perceive they need) might be more important to you than anything else on the planet, but quiet frankly I and many, many others could not care less
Andy, UK

The judgement by the tribunal in the case of the case of the policewoman was clearly sexually discriminatory against men. This is because it is men in the main who will have to work the unpopular shifts so they can now sue the tribunal system for compensation for sexual discrimination. The police were definitely not guilty of sexual discrimination as all workers were made to work their share of unpopular shifts. Those who think everyone should have flexitime should ask themselves this when your house is on fire what will be your reaction when told: Sorry there is no one present to attend your fire as all the firemen are working flexitime and have chosen not to work nights. A similar story could be used for the Police.
Stephen, England

About time although in my case working offshore in the oil industry means I am exempt from the basic employment rights enjoyed by the rest of the UK so I hope those that are entitled enjoy it
A Jones, Scotland

This is simply a fairer system

Andrew Bartlett, UK
This is simply a fairer system. To say you should not have children if you cannot afford it is more than a little silly. Most people cannot afford it, even those in full time work. To allow working mothers (and hopefully fathers) to reschedule their working lives allows them to remain in employment and productive. The other option, seemingly supported by those who object to their "tax dollars" being used in this way, is to only allow reproduction of the rich. The equation of a person's wealth and their "quality" is not one I can accept.
Andrew Bartlett, UK

This is another ludicrous government double-whammy: a short-sighted kick in the teeth for both employees and employers, which will have resounding negative effects for both. Employers will become more wary of employing mothers, potential mothers and single parents - so those most in need of a job with flexible hours will find it more difficult to get either, let alone both. By definition, businessmen don't arrange their staffing requirements and work schedules around other people's domestic priorities. They will simply avoid the potential difficulties presented by this ruling by not employing people who fall into the risk category which it has created. So, yet again, whilst the Government's heart might be in the right place, it's head certainly isn't.
Chris B., England

I'm afraid I find the attitude of some of the people involved in this debate utterly reprehensible and that fact that attitudes like these still exist in the 21st century is frankly, quite frightening. It seems that many of you have missed the vital point of the ruling made recently - that working parents only have the right to ask for flexible working time, not the right to demand it. Employers can say no, and I doubt many parents would savour the prospect of taking their companies to a tribunal and possibly losing their job. And working flexi-time does not mean that those people who don't have children will have to carry the can for those who do - it means they put the hours in at times to suit them. What's wrong with that?

Those of you that are annoyed by the so-called leniency afforded to working parents should remember that we could sit at home and use their hard-earned money to bring up our children. Would they rather us do that instead? I can't speak for all working parents, but most of us are as hardworking as anyone else and our day doesn't stop at 5pm. I returned to work after having my child to avoid claiming benefits, to have a bit of independence and to show my daughter that sitting on her backside and taking from the state is not an option, and also that there is great satisfaction in working and bringing home money. It seems, from some of the comments posted here, that working parents are damned if they do, and damned if they don't.
Rachel, UK

Leave it to market economics, not regulation. If companies want people to work antisocial hours, they should give incentives in the form of good, old-fashioned money (bonuses, shift payments, call them what you will). The parents who don't want to work the antisocial hours can then choose not to do so but must forgo the extra cash. It's a choice thing, yes?
Jeremy, England

I have two children - and choose to work full time. My husband and I have no family to help us out. It is our decision to live as we do - I am lucky to work for an enlightened company that values parents working - but not at any cost - and I have no right to take advantage. Business is business.
Karen M, UK

In Switzerland it's the norm for school children to come home for lunch

F Kelly, Switzerland (ex UK)
Spare a thought for those of us who have been used to the "nanny state" of the UK and who now live in Switzerland. The provisions for the working mum are virtually non-existent. There aren't even any canteens in schools so it's the norm for school children to come home for lunch. Suddenly the UK doesn't seem so bad...
F Kelly, Switzerland (ex UK)

I am glad I don't live in the UK. My tax dollars already support way too many freeloaders. Now you're telling anyone who doesn't have kids to cover undesirable shifts as well. Where's the equality in that? Add "childless" to the cliche that the most discriminated against people are working, single, white males.
Jesse, USA

It is a shame to see so many people reacting negatively to this news. I don't have kids, but see this as a step forward in new working practices for the whole business sector. The sooner people are able to work from home, or vary their working hours, the sooner the effects will benefit everyone in one way or another. Sure, certain jobs cannot be as flexible as others, but at least you can choose the job you do. The hours of 9-5 are no longer as appropriate as they once were, with late night shopping or 24 hour banking as examples. The sooner we ALL have the right to work flexible hours and get judged on our productivity the better.
Mark Hasted, London, UK

Alice UK - yes, it was my wife who gave up work, but sorry to disappoint you, I would have been more than happy to give up my career to look after the children, but we decided that as I was earning more it would be logical for me to work. Horribly old fashioned I know, but my wife actually wanted to be with the children.
Martin, UK

Maybe the new arrangement will encourage men to spend more time helping to raise the next generation

Alice, UK
Maybe the new arrangement will encourage men to work flexi-time and therefore spend more time helping to raise the next generation. Surely a good thing! As for Martin, UK, Why do I get the feeling that it was your wife who made the sacrifice in giving up her career and her financial independence, rather than you?
Alice, UK

If you can't survive without two incomes then don't have children. As parents my wife and I have had to make sacrifices, but that's our choice. Take responsibility for your lives and don't rely on others to bail you out.
Martin, UK

Companies exist to make money, not to act as nannies

Simon Moore, UK
Companies exist to make money, not to act as nannies for people who are not mature enough to accept the responsibility of having children. If you're not mature enough to handle the responsibility (which many people posting here clearly are not) then don't have children - for their sakes, as well as the rest of us.
Simon Moore, UK

I'm a childless woman aged 22, and I work flexi-hours in retail. The store is open 24 hrs a day, which means I can pick and choose what days and hours I work. This option is available to everyone in the store although many people prefer to work the usual 9-5 work day. I do agree that in other sectors of the working world, like office work, it seems unfair that working mothers seem to get a better deal than their colleagues just because they've not bothered to arrange appropriate childcare. I think everyone would be much happier if flexitime was an option - regardless of whether they've got kids or not.
Lydia Gifford, England

It is about time companies considered the advantages of offering modified hours or flexitime to parents with children under 12 years old. Just consider all those "sickies" that were taken on full pay when really all the parent needed was a day off to look after a child who was either sick or where childminding arrangements had fallen flat. For the record, when my son was small, my husband, being in a much lower paid job than myself, decided to work part-time. This meant our son could be escorted to and from school and if he was ill, could make up time later.
Hazel, UK

To those who are saying that their children will be paying for the pensions of those who are complaining - actually, we have been paying for our own pensions, thank you, through deductions made from our salaries and our taxes for the last 20 years. And we are also currently paying for their children's education and medical care.
Jayne, UK

I am fed up with people who have no kids complaining about more flexibility for parents. What they forget is that parents are subsidising the pensions of the childless elective, by producing future taxpayers/consumers.
Pete, UK

Pete, UK - Parents are also bringing up the next generation of muggers, burglars, thieves and scroungers. I agree with those who are saying that there should be flexibility for all. We'd all like to be able to arrange our working lives to suit our interests whether these are children, older relatives or simply hobbies.
Jenni, Bristol, England

What people have failed to note here is the fact that this is a policewoman, not an office worker who won this appeal (and who has now successfully retired through the "stress" of the appeals process). In most police forces about 15 percent of their constables are women. So 15 percent of the police workforce would be stupid to not take advantage of what our misguided judiciary decreed today. I'm sure that people who become police officers are fully aware of the shift patterns worked (for a reasonable remuneration) before they join, but no, some people find a decent job and then get a judge to alter it to fit their personal circumstances. I thought that women fought for equality, or is it like animal farm - "all people are equal, but some women are more equal than others".

I have many questions about how far the rest of us have to go in order to help support the children of complete strangers

Michael, Canada
Let me see if I understand this correctly. I am a train driver, I have arrived at work, and I am about to drive a train out of the station, when I get a phone call that one of my kids is sick. I can turn around and go home, and leave hundreds of folks sitting on the train waiting for the dispatcher to try to find another driver who hasn't taken the day off or is coming in later because of their children. Does this mean that the rest of us have to have flexi hours too? Does this mean that we should be flexible in our scheduling of our car crashes so that the police, the ambulance drivers, and the medical people can take time off when they decide that they need to? Who will cover for the parents on flexi time when the folks at a small business are all parents? I have many questions about how far the rest of us have to go in order to help support the children of complete strangers.
Michael, Canada

Why take a job that involves unsociable hours if you are concerned about looking after children? Women want the same wages and conditions as their male counterparts but are not willing to accept the hours or work involved.
Fred, UK

Flexi time could benefit everyone, not just parents of young children. Imagine having time to take your elderly mother to the doctor, not having to rush to the dentist after hours or simply some time to take care of the things that only seem to happen during working hours. Imagine having the ability to have your business open longer because your employees work flexible hours and some of those hours fall outside the normal 9 to 5. As long as the work gets done and nothing shuts down, I don't see flex time as an evil thing to be avoided.
Faye, USA

I know who will end up working Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, the Friday before every bank holiday etc - muggins!

Chris, Somerset
I for one am appalled that a police woman even asked to be given preference in her shift rota, let alone has been given compensation. I am fed up with my colleagues getting first pick at holiday dates, just because they have children. If they are allowed flexible working I know who will end up working Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, the Friday before every bank holiday etc (and if there's an early start or a late finish) - muggins! What about my human rights? Perhaps it's time I had kids if you're only considered equal if you're reproducing like rabbits these days!
Chris, Somerset

As a childless worker I find it difficult to comprehend the attitude of other childless contributors to this discussion. Their opinions seem to be based on a misunderstanding and are woefully lacking in foresight. Workers with children are asking for flexibility not a reduced workload, so how does that affect anyone else? Also, the childless critics need to remember something. When they are old and grey and picking up their pensions, the country will be run, and paid for, by the children affected by current working practices. It's in all of our (self)interests to ensure that today's children have the best deal possible, and that includes as much quality time with their working parents as possible.
Paul Kenton, UK

I have to say how surprised and saddened I am to read all these negative comments directed at working parents. My baby is due early next year and I would like the option of working part time. What's wrong with that? I need the mental stimulation and the sense that I am making a useful contribution to society that my job gives me. I would also like to give my child the best care I can. I believe that I can do that if I am personally satisfied - which I am not sure I would be if I was stuck at home all day.

Surely, as far as work is concerned, what's the problem as long as the job gets done?? E-mail and modern technology make working remotely from the office a possibility. I certainly don't have a problem making the hours up if necessary and find it offensive that many assume that working parents do. What many people forget is - what about single parents? - the alternative for them is to be supported by the state - is that desirable alternative to work???
Anthea, UK

I think flexible hours are a great idea - kids or no kids. In a modern workplace, where many companies work in different time zones across the world, how much sense does a uniform 9 - 5 workday make? Flexible hours would also relieve the rush-hour congestion on our roads and trains, so would have environmental/ psychological benefits too! I say that if the job gets done, and everyone is pulling their weight, what harm will a bit of flexibility do?
RF, England

Everyone should have the right to a better work-life balance, not just parents

Jane, Wales, UK
I am childless (though not by choice) and I too feel these proposals are discriminatory. Everyone should have the right to a better work-life balance, not just parents. Being a non-parent, whether or not by choice, doesn't make you a non-person. And let me forestall the inevitable "if no one had children the human race would die out" old chestnut by pointing out that if everyone had children the world would become impossibly overcrowded. Some would say it already is.
Jane, Wales, UK

It seems very sad to me that some of the comments so far are extremely bitter from people without children. I have two children and, yes I work, primarily because my husband is self employed and I earn the money that pays the mortgage. My company offers flexible working hours to all its employees (not just parents) and I am grateful for that - but I have to say that no-one covers for me when I am not at work - it's still all there for me the next day. Also when I finish I'm not going off and doing other things, I'm picking my children up from school and then helping them with their homework and making their tea.
Anne, UK

The simple answer is to only employ people over 50. They work harder than the modern youth and won't want years off at other peoples' expense to have children.
Neil, UK

I have done my fair share of covering for holidays

Mark, England
I have worked for 15 years before becoming a father. I have done my fair share of covering for holidays when I was younger. It is my "turn" to have a few graces, I have earned it. Young people want it all these days. (Good grief I am starting to sound like a father!) Your time will come youngsters, so shut up and put up! As for the woman moaning she can't afford property because she is single, I suggest she gets herself a fella and has a few kids!
Mark, England

Why don't we just go the whole hog and rule that working parents no longer have to actually attend their office and just collect their pay? I'm sure most workers would like half the flexibility given to their colleagues who happen to have had children.
Karl Peters, UK

Soon, no employer will risk employing women of childbearing age. Maternity leave, flexible working, part-time working - it won't be worth it. Perhaps this is a subtle ploy to get mothers back at home. As for the singles and childless; this sounds like discrimination and I am sure there lots of lawyers ready to earn a bob or two on their behalf. P.S. we have six children.
Chris Klein, UK

Most of us, with kids or without, have to pour too much time and energy into work, leaving too little for living

Ben Drake, York, UK
If we allow this to become an argument between parents and non-parents, we miss the real issue - the way work takes over our lives. Most of us, with kids or without, have to pour too much time and energy into work, leaving too little for living. It's a good thing parents have won more flexibility. Let's not begrudge them. Let's demand the same flexibility for all workers!
Ben Drake, York, UK

My goodness you are a selfish lot over there. If this is how adults think of children it is no wonder they in turn have no respect for their elders. Now that the government has tried to initiate something which we in Europe have always enjoyed you are all up in arms about it.
John, France

What is needed is better childcare provision and more creches

Robert Parker, UK
Could this put off companies employing people with children further? I think what is needed is better childcare provision and more creches.
Robert Parker, UK

Single people already have enough problems trying to afford somewhere to live thanks to high house prices - caused in no small part by dual incomes. If couples in relationships want kids, they should do us all a favour and have one stay at home to bring them up properly, while the other goes to work to pay for them.
Richard, UK

I think all companies should allow flexible working hours as this would avoid unnecessary ill feeling between colleagues at work. Like most parents, my wife and I also had problems trying to balance the working day and raising a family. The companies we worked for allowed flexi hours which enable us to take it in turns to drop off or pick up our children, or to cover a child that was unwell. Thereby, minimising the impact to the companies. Giving special privileges to parents is unfair to those that are not.
Alan, Germany/UK

I am sick to death of selfish parents who seem to think that they have some sort of right to disrupt everyone else's lives just because they chose to have children. I am frequently called selfish because I made a conscious decision not to have children. However the parents who want to have it all at the expense of the child-free are considerably more selfish for wanting it all at the expense of others. I see no reason why a parent who wants to have children and work should expect to be treated any differently from any other employee.
Kate Morgan, England

This will put companies off taking people on who have children

Simon, UK
This really is just discrimination against those who don't have children. Companies should be guided to more sympathetic working practices rather than having to defend themselves against a tribunal every time they need employees to turn up for work and leave on time. This will put companies off taking people on who have children.
Simon, UK

There seems to be an awful lot of indignation by childless people here. I don't yet have any children myself, but I do feel that everyone in society has a collective responsibility toward the young. Giving a bit of priority towards parents is not a huge price to pay.
Jon, Basingstoke, UK

I think it is interesting that the comments so far are all negative. The government seems to have underestimated the resentment that such legislation causes amongst single people and childless couples. I must say I tend to agree with all of the here. We all make choices in life and no one is obliged to have children. If you choose to have them then you should be prepared to make sacrifices in other areas of your life. As one of the greatest problems in the world today is overpopulation I have always believed that those without children should be rewarded for not adding to the problem, not penalised. If there were a shortage of workers in this country then our immigration laws would not be so draconian.
William, UK

Yet again we see the prejudice against childless people manifesting itself in law. What about those who have lost their children, or are unable to have children? Why should they be discriminated against? And why should the rest of us shoulder the burden of other people's children? It seems that if you have children you can do what you like when you like and expect to still be paid for it.
Ron, UK

Employers who allow flexible working hours are already reaping the benefits

Alister McClure, UK
Employers who allow flexible working hours are already reaping the benefits. Staff can work at the times that fit in with their other commitments and workers are at their most productive when the hours they work suit them best. However, people have their own responsibilities and this must be built into any flexible working scheme. Also, it is not only parents who have important responsibilities away from work. I would not like to see parents being given privileges over others.
Alister McClure, UK

Flexible working hours should be available for everyone as long as it doesn't interfere with running a business properly. There are so many work activities where location is totally irrelevant that I can't see why people shouldn't be allowed to do them somewhere other than in the office. Results are what counts for a business in the end. Being at the office is no guarantee that people work better or more efficiently or that they work at all. Being a parent shouldn't automatically give you rights to work flexible hours, nor should your co-workers have to cover for you if you do.
Victor D, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

It is just incredibly selfish and arrogant of those who have decided to have children and to work to expect childless people to cover for them. Their rights trample all over those of other people. I would like to work as and when I pleased, the hours that suit me, with no loss of promotion prospects or salary but I can't. I would like more time to spend with my friends and my parents but I haven't got that privilege. What makes their rights more important than mine? They want their cake, they want to eat it and they want someone else to pay for it as well.
Andrew Carter, UK

My parents seemed to manage and I am not a delinquent

Sandra, UK
If you don't have time to look after your children, don't have them. I have plenty of things that I do that I would love flexible hours for, but as I do not have children, would not get that luxury. My parents seemed to manage and I am not a delinquent.
Sandra, UK

When people take on a job they agree that they are available to work the set hours and shift patterns required. If these people then have children and are no longer able to work such hours, then they should be considered to have breached their contract and not be entitled to different working hours. People know how difficult it is to raise children and make the decision to have one based on this knowledge. Why should the rest of us pick up the pieces for them?
Samantha, Liverpool, England

Why just parents? I think we should all have flexi-time. I'm annoyed by the cotton-mill view of working hours taken by most "modern" firms. Don't they know that in this age of communication, we can work at any time and place? We need to switch to a goal-based approach instead, or we'll be in the 1800s forever.
Russ, UK

The parent who has to work flexibly should be catered for

Marlene Bertrand, UK
Yet again I feel that some people are missing the point. We all have a responsibility to ensure that our children are cared for in the most appropriate way for them and their family. If it means that others in the team cover for the parent who has to deal with a situation at home then it is up to us all to pull together. The parent who has to work flexibly should be catered for. They are bringing up the next generation. These parents will give back to society at some point in the future. We all need to think about others. More than just ourselves.
Marlene Bertrand, UK

What a surprise, another deal aimed at helping out those who choose to have children but who fail to accept the responsibility that it entails. Perhaps if more people dedicated their day to looking after their kids rather than getting back to work as soon as possible, there would be fewer kids going off the rails in later life. And why exactly should employers have to move the goalposts just so their staff can have children? Will the same advantages of flexible working apply to those of us who choose not to contribute to the overpopulation of the country?
Steve, England

I fear that as usual it'll be those of us who choose not to have children who will be expected to cover for those who do.
Bill, UK

My inability to have children means I am a prime target for endlessly covering for the absence of those who do

June, UK
I totally agree with Bill. My inability to have children means I am a prime target for endlessly covering for the absence of those who do. I'm not able to consider taking time off during the school holidays, and I also see colleagues obtaining (gold-dust) parking permits, because they have children, while many others have to use the bus or park and ride option. This will just make it official.
June, UK

Oh, I do get so tired of these selfish, self-centred people moaning every time parents gain even tiny concessions which will make their lives just that little bit easier. Now we even have someone moaning that she can't take time off in the school holidays. You would really want to take time off at the most expensive time of the year when everywhere is teaming with children, would you? Who are you trying to kid? As for shift work, parents often work the unsociable shifts because it fits in with their childcare arrangements. Please stop this whining "I can't have it so why should you" attitude! Why shouldn't employers be flexible, if the request is legitimate? Many are already perfectly happy to accommodate employees who, for whatever reason, need flexibility in their working day. We are living in the 21st century, not the 19th, after all.
Julie, UK

Julie wonders why childless people would want to take time off during the school holidays. One reason is to take younger siblings, nephews or nieces on holiday.
Debbie, UK

So long as a positive move for parents doesn't become a negative move for single people and those in childless relationships. The childless should not automatically be expected to cover when someone goes home early to look after les enfants.
Eric Moncheret, St Malo, France

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