From the TUC

Flexibilising inflexible bosses

09 Sep 2008, by in Working Life

The debate on flexible working and homeworking has been hotting up this week. The CBI’s Autumn Economic Statement, which was published on Monday, argues that there has been a huge increase in homeworking in recent years. However, according to the official Labour Force Survey, there has been some increase in the number of employees who can work from home but it has been relatively modest.

why the discrepancy? It looks like the CBI survey simply asked whether employers offer homeworking to any of their staff. So any company that lets its senior managers work from home answered “yes”. Unfortunately this doesn’t really tell us much about the reality of access to homeworking.

Why has the CBI over-claimed? Probably because it wants to argue against the extension of the “right to request flexible working” on the grounds that good employers are already doing the right thing.

The problem is that this would leave those who are employed by old-fashioned, inflexible companies with no way of improving their working lives except by  looking for another job.

This matters, because there is still a big mismatch between what workers want and what they actually get. Another government survey shows that18 per cent of employees would like to work from home some of the time, but cannot do so at the moment. In addition, a further 20 per cent want to work flexi-time.

I should say here that employers’ organisations deserve real credit for actively promoting flexible working and homeworking. Indeed, both the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce are working with the TUC in WorkWiseUK –– which is promoting the mutual benefits of smarter, more flexible working.

The trouble is that you can’t do everything through education and spreading best practice. There are quite a lot of employers bumping along on the bottom when it comes to employment practices. Some simply don’t know any better, but far too many are determined to get as much work as possible from their workers for as little as they can get away with.

It follows that we have to legislate to ensure that workers are fairly treated even if they are working for a complete bonehead – and there really is no other way of flexibilising completely inflexible bosses. But legislation does not need to be “red tape”. I believe that if we do it right then the law will have no impact at all on the majority of firms who are already doing the right thing.