Flexible working a “lifeline”, Qureshi declares following return to frontbench – LabourList

Labour’s Yasmin Qureshi has declared that flexible working is a “lifeline” for many people and “offers a much needed pathway into the labour market” following her return to the Labour frontbench as shadow women and equalities minister.

Addressing the Commons today during the second reading of her private members’ bill on flexible working, Qureshi said: “Flexibility is far more than hybrid working. It covers job shares, it includes reduced or compressed hours, flexi-time and even phased retirement.

“Offering flexibility to balance work and home life can be the key to ensuring progression in the labour market and to opening up employment and promotion opportunities for everyone regardless of their gender, age, disability or location.”

Qureshi’s private members’ bill – the employment relations (flexible working) bill – successfully passed its second reading. Government minister Kevin Hollinrake confirmed that the government will support the bill, declaring that the proposed legislation “formalises good working practice”.

The bill seeks to support workers in their attempts to work flexibly from day one of their employment and has been developed in collaboration with employers, employees and campaign groups advocating for increase access to flexible working.

The Bolton South East MP, who was appointed as shadow women and equalities minister today, told MPs: “This is an important issue, important because flexibility in the workplace is no longer a perk or a nice thing to have. For many, it is a lifeline. It offers a much needed pathway into the labour market.”

She noted that some employees who want to work flexibly have been prevented from doing so “despite there often being no good reason for the employer to not let them”, with “serious consequences for women and families, in particular, and those with childcare commitments”.

Qureshi said: “Statistics show that if women can access flexible working, they’re twice as likely to stay in that job and continue in their careers whilst having children.”

“Men’s ability to access flexible working is just as important. The statistics show that women are twice as likely to excel in their career if their husband is helping them with the childcare,” she added.

The bill proposes amendments to the provisions of the Employment Rights Act 1996, including introducing a requirement for employers to consult with employees before rejecting their flexible working request and allowing employees to make two requests in any 12-month period where they are currently able to make one.

The bill would also reduce the decision period for an employer to administer a request from three months to two months and remove the requirement that employees explain in their request what impact the change in their working pattern would have on the employer.

Qureshi told the Commons: “Flexible working fosters a more diverse workforce and the evidence shows that this leads to improved financial returns for businesses.” She added: “This bill does not resolve all the issues concerning better flexible working, but I believe it’s a step in the right direction.”

Several Tory MPs spoke in favour of Qureshi’s bill during the session. Peter Gibson said: “Personally, I strongly support flexible working and firmly believe that, only by championing a flexible and dynamic labour market, can we grow the economy.”

Chris Clarkson said: “By tearing down these barriers that prevent parents, the disabled, carers, older people, from remaining in the workforce, we unleash a wave of new potential into our economy. So this is a win-win piece of legislation.”

A survey of almost 13,000 mothers carried out by the TUC and campaign group Mother Pukka last year found that one in two respondents had had a request for flexible working rejected or only partially accepted by their employer.

86% of respondents said they had experienced discrimination because of choosing to work flexibly, while 42% admitted that they were too scared to request flexible working because they were concerned about how their employer would react.

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