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The BBC's James Westhead
"The way we work is changing fast"
 real 56k

General secretary of the TGWU Bill Morris
"The government has not addressed what happens when the employer says no"
 real 28k

Trade and Industry Sectretary Patricia Hewitt
"People shouldn't have to choose between being a good parent and being a good employee"
 real 56k

Thursday, 28 June, 2001, 08:18 GMT 09:18 UK
Flexible hours boost for working parents
Parents taking children to school
Parents will have the right to ask for better hours
Workers with children are to get a new legal right to ask to work flexible hours or to go part time.

The government is to announce the measures as part of its plans for family friendly policies in the workplace.


I am amazed that here we are in the 21st century and the government are promoting a right to ask as a major breakthrough

Bill Morris
Transport and General Workers' Union
But union leaders on Thursday criticised ministers for watering down measures included in a government consultation "green paper".

Employers will still be able to refuse requests if they will have a detrimental affect on their businesses.

Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt will announce a new task force to advise on how family-friendly policies can be brought in without harming business.

The government has promised a new legal right for working parents.

Unions' fear

They will be entitled to ask for flexible hours ranging from starting work late to going part-time.

Employers will have to consider such requests seriously but can refuse them.

Trade unions who campaigned for a much stronger right to go part-time fear the government's plans will make little difference.

Patricia Hewitt
Hewitt: Compromise offers flexibility
Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, told BBC News: "I am amazed that here we are - the 21st century, years of sacrifices - and the government are promoting a right to ask as a major breakthrough."

He demanded a proper legal right for employees to work part time.

There would be circumstances where employers wanted to "say no", but the reason for such refusals needed to be tested at an industrial tribunal.

"What we have here is a watering down of proposals from the green paper into a situation where the burden of proof has been shifted from the employer to the employee," he complained.

Ending the struggle

But the trade and industry secretary defended the decision not to force employers to offer the flexible hours.

Ms Hewitt said the government and the trade unions wanted the same thing.

"We want people to be able to balance their responsibilities as parents and their responsibilities as employees instead of having a struggle between being a good parent and a good employee," she said.

She argued the changes were a "sensible compromise which means that flexibility will be on the agenda of business".

"Businesses vary and what will work in one business won't work in another," Ms Hewitt told BBC News. "So you want some give and take here."

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See also:

21 May 01 | Education
Employers 'not childcare friendly'
07 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Paid paternity leave on the cards
21 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Parental leave 'boost' considered
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