[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 31 July, 2003, 09:25 GMT 10:25 UK
Six Forum: Flexible working
Equalities Officer for Amicus, Rachel Maskell, answered your questions in the Six Forum, presented by Manisha Tank.



Working parents could have triggered the walkout that crippled British Airways last week.

According to the Amicus union, workers fear that split-shifts and annualised hours would rob workers of the ability to plan childcare and holidays.

Researchers at Leeds University say that mothers often put flexibility and childcare before pay and self-fulfilment when choosing jobs.

However, nearly half of working mothers would prefer to stay at home with their children if it was not for money worries, according to the Centre for Policy Studies.

Who really benefits from flexible working? Are working parents at a disadvantage? Will free childcare make job choices easier?

Your questions were answered by Rachel Maskell from Amicus in the Six Forum, presented by Manisha Tank.


Transcript


Manisha Tank:

Hello and welcome to the Six Forum, a place where you can be heard, I'm Manisha Tank. So do working parents get a raw deal? That's what we're asking. The strikes that crippled British Airways recently brought the issue to the fore, with check-in staff - 90% of whom are women with families - fearing that a new swipe card system might end their flexi-time work pattern.

Well according to the Amicus union, workers fear that split shifts and annualised hours would rob workers of the ability to plan childcare and holidays. Rachel Maskell, National Secretary for Equality and Diversity at Amicus, joins me to answer your questions.

Rachel, we'll begin with an e-mail received from Dan W in the UK who asks: Most staff who clock in do so electronically nowadays, so why are BA staff so opposed?

Also a text message from an anonymous caller who asks: Asda uses the swipe card system and there's no issue with staff using it.


Rachel Maskell:

There are so many different ways of using electronic tagging for staff and what we want to ensure as a union is that if flexibility used it works for the staff. The BA dispute was partly about the process by which the system was introduced. We were told that our members would be starting the system as of the 18th August and that's obviously not the way to do business with staff.

So what we want to ensure is that our staff have the opportunity and members of Amicus have the opportunity to have a system which will mean that their childcare, their family responsibilities, will actually be part of the equation.


Manisha Tank:

Sri, Bristol asks: I would have thought that annualised hours and flexible working benefit the majority of workers. What's all the fuss about?


Rachel Maskell:

There are all sorts of patterns of work and what we say is that there is flexible working for the employer and there's flexible working for the employee and what we want to see is a balance that is brought in which brings a value to the quality of life and thus value to the quality of the work that's produced. Because there we see a proper work/life balance, what we will also see is a happier workforce, a more considered workforce and therefore better productivity. So there is a business case for flexible working. But also for the individual employee to be able to balance their home life, their childcare which obviously takes a lot of planning and obviously if we're talking about a workforce of 90% of women, there is going to be a large majority which have got other considerations and what we want to see a proper balance brought in.


Manisha Tank:

Let's try and be controversial, Rachel, we've just got an e-mail in from E Housely in Edinburgh who asks: While having some sympathy for women having to juggle work and childcare arrangements, the bottom line is that once again employees' interests are coming before those of customers. Failure to introduce flexible shift patterns must mean extra costs to be passed on to the customer.

Kate C: Many of us who have chosen not to have children are fed up with seeing parents being given 'rights' whilst we have to cover for their absences and work the unsocial hours that they are trying to avoid. What about our rights?


Rachel Maskell:

There are so many ways of working flexible work patterns and some of the issues which come into play here is that it's not just about childcare, there's also issues about caring for relatives. OK, there's no legislation around that currently but it is certainly a consideration and that could impact on any us at any time. Also we need to invest in the next generation and mothers have the right to do that and therefore childcare is very important for the value of the family and we mustn't forget that.

Thirdly, of course, at the end of the year, we've got the new regulations around religion and belief which again emphasises flexible working so that employees can bring in some balance between their work and also their faith and it's recognising that an employer is not just somebody that comes work and does a job but is a person and therefore there is a lot more to that person and that is why ultimately they were employed by that company.


Manisha Tank:

Going back to parents and their issues, James Burns, Glasgow asks: What about working fathers who want to help with the upbringing of our children? Are there policies to help us?


Rachel Maskell:

Apparently the flexible working does apply also to parents - it looks at parents across the board. The new rights that came brought in paid parental leave and also paid paternity leave for the first time - the Government introduced that and therefore there are greater areas where fathers can have rights to bring up their children. But flexible working isn't just about women working part-time, it can be about men sharing the responsibility, so fathers can work part-time as well. And again, proper flexible working patterns should enable all the workforce to be able to engage in their responsibilities at home as well as at work.


Manisha Tank:

On a similar issue, Andrew Hill, Nottingham asks: Will men be given equal maternity leave to women in the near future?

Jane, Bude, Cornwall asks: Do you think that most people get abused by their employer because they're not made aware of their rights?


Rachel Maskell:

That's quite an interesting question. Amicus continuously progresses the whole family friendly agenda with government, with employers and we will continue to do so because we recognise the importance of that and we're not where we'd want to be. So as far as extending the rights, that's certainly a very important thing for us as a union to continue to campaign on because we recognise the value that that brings to the workplace.

But as far as taking things a little bit further and looking at the future and the future work patterns, I think that's part of what this equation is about as well. As we see the workplace becoming 24/7, we need to think about flexible working - while we think for some would fit in between the hours of 9 and 5, perhaps it doesn't for all. For some, a partner may choose to go out and work an evening shift or through the night which may not be popular with others. So there's got to be a balance brought in there some where.


Manisha Tank:

A Hetherington, Barnsley asks: Is there a fine line between flexible working and simply blurring the boundary between work and home so that we end up effectively 'at work' 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at the beck and call of employers?

Let's remember that with technology there are people who have high speed internet connections, they're connected to their workplace from home - is all of this going to get worse?


Rachel Maskell:

Technology can help in the debate because if we're cutting out commuter time obviously that enables you to spend more time at home with your family. But technology also could be the downfall, as you point out. Obviously we have the working time regulations which restrict hours of work and what we need as a first discipline as employees because of our long hour culture in this country, is to restrain ourselves from working those long hours each day, every day, and recognising that as a person you're more balanced if you've got interests outside of work as well as being able to dedicate your time seriously to the work commitments that you have.


Manisha Tank:

An e-mail that's just come in from Sue Rennie in Dudley asks: I think as long as shifts etc. are planned ahead, and the times are stuck to then you can plan childcare etc. It is when they are changed at the last minute there are problems.

That of course is what happened to the workers at BA - there was this last minute edict that suddenly they would have a new system.


Rachel Maskell:

We all know that access to childcare and getting hold of childcare can be difficult and there are never enough places and as we see more women coming into the labour market, it's going to be an increasing problem that does need addressing. So as far as the questioner is concerned, it is an issue about being able to plan, so once you've got your childcare planned, it gives you a sense of peace of mind. Of course you worry about children when they're away from you but at least knowing those patterns of work will coincide with the planning that you've put in obviously does enhance your performance at work because there's one less thing to consider.


Manisha Tank:

More controversial questions. Jenny Oliver, Aberdeen asks: Isn't it more important to sort out racism and age discrimination at work before we start worrying about working parents?


Rachel Maskell:

There's a balance to be brought in here but obviously as a union we're fighting on all fronts. We have got new law coming in on age discrimination in 2006 and obviously we welcome some of the proposals coming forward there. But also racism is a very key issue in the workplace and we as a union have got broad campaigning on this issue - looking at equal pay as a big issue, looking at equality as far as access to promotion to education. There are all sorts of issues and we need to fight that as well as the general racism which we're seeing rising, particularly in the north west and in the north east - in Burnley, in Sunderland - and the actions being put out by particular organisations which obviously are in dispute with the policies we have as a trade union and therefore there are all sorts of issues that we will be fighting. What I would say is there are many priorities and we need to work on all of those.


Manisha Tank:

Of course Rachel the trade unions are doing the fighting, but what about the people who aren't members of unions. Adam Bunton, Salisbury asks: Should we be worried that immigrants and children are being forced into bad working practices because they're not in a position to stand up to their employers?


Rachel Maskell:

Of course we should be concerned. If people are making a contribution to the economy in this country, we need to ensure that not only their economic welfare is protected but their own health and safety. One of the things that is being particularly drawn to our attention is that where we are seeing migrant workers engaged in employment, often it is in employment below the national minimum wage, often the health and safety conditions are appalling and we're seeing accidents to the individual - quite clearly that is not right and therefore what we need ensure is best practice goes across the board.


Manisha Tank:

Lisa Nichols, Manchester: Shortly I will have two children in full-time childcare - which will cost the best part of 1000 per month. Are there plans to substantially reduce the costs of childcare or even make it free?


Rachel Maskell:

In Amicus we pay a particular interest into childcare issues and we work with the TUC in engaging in that debate and certainly we have put forward our views to the consultation paper the government have brought out around this issue. So certainly we recognise the expense of childcare and a lot of parents have to work a lot of hours in order to afford their childcare which is quite ludicrous. So it is an issue. We recognise that parents do have responsibilities there but also we need to make childcare far more accessible across the board so it isn't a case of segregation around childcare and employment but it is available to all.


Manisha Tank:

To finish I'll go back to something that you said earlier in the forum and this was about children being the next generation and therefore we should be investing time in them.

Carol Woodall asks: Since my daughter was 4 months old, I've returned to work due to money worries. Childminders are not cheap and often the children are upset that they have to be parted from their parents. Can leaving children in this way cause long-term damage?


Rachel Maskell:

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has just come up with a study which says that there is no ill effect that can be seen and in fact working parents can bring a different dynamic to the home and family life. There was a quote in it where a child has actually recognised that their mother going to work was a benefit to them. What is important is that parents can spend quality time with their child and if they choose to do that full time or part time, that they have the right to do that and therefore the employers should not dictate the way that somebody brings up their children.


Manisha Tank:

We have to leave it there. That's all for this forum. Rachel Maskell thanks very much for joining us from Amicus. That's it for now, you've been watching the Six Forum. Goodbye.




SEE ALSO:
Women discriminated against
09 Jul 03  |  Wiltshire
Women's '21-year' graduate debt
17 Jul 03  |  Education
Working mums' children 'unharmed'
12 May 03  |  Education
Meeting the childcare challenge
23 Jul 03  |  Business


RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific