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Tuesday, 20 November, 2001, 18:12 GMT
Q&A: New work rights for parents

Parents with young children are to be given the chance to request more flexible working hours. The BBC's Kim Catcheside looks at the implications of the new rights.

What has been decided?

From 2003 working parents will be given a right to ask employers if they can work flexible hours or part-time to enable them to look after children.

Who will be eligible?

Almost 4m mothers and fathers with children under six in England, Wales and Scotland.

They must make their request before their youngest child's sixth birthday, but can continue to work part-time or flexibly until children grow up and leave home if necessary.

How will it work?

Parents must make their request to their employers in writing. The employer must set up a meeting to discuss the proposal within a month.

If the employer wants to refuse flexible or part-time hours they must do so in writing, putting a convincing business case for their refusal.

Employees may then appeal and eventually take their case to tribunal.

Ministers believe that 80% of requests will be granted by employers.

It is estimated that 350,000 parents will benefit from the changes each year.

What do employers say?

The CBI is relieved that it has managed to dissuade the government from giving all new parents an absolute right to return to work part-time.

It says the compromise is a "workable deal".

The Institute of Directors warns that there may be a backlash against working parents from workers without children who will not be given the same privileges.

What do parents groups say?

They are disappointed. 18 months ago they were optimistic that they could persuade the government to give new parents a right to work reduced hours.

The Maternity Alliance says the "right to ask" doesn't go far enough. Some critics say that only skilled and powerful workers will be confident enough to approach their employers and those in poorly paid unskilled jobs will be left behind.

What is the government's response to that?

Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt says the proposals will be monitored for three years.

If they are not working fast enough, or if some groups of workers are being left out, she says the government will consider tightening the legislation.

Mrs Hewitt is confident that the proposals "will accelerate flexible working by a generation".

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