L'illusion de la Flexibilité FLEXIBLE FALLACY


This week, ministers claimed the success of laws passed last year allowing parents to request flewible working. Patricia Hewitt, the trade and industry secretary, said nearly 1m parents had made such a request, equal to about a quarter of those who could do so and employers agreed to requests in about 80% of cases. She argued that the law should be extended to cover not just working parents of children under six and disabled children under 18 but also workers who care for elderly relatives.

Undoubtedly most big companies have woken up to the idea that flexible working - with its mix of part-time jobs, flexi-hours, short-term and contract working - is there to stay but there are plenty of small and medium-sized businesses prepared to keep anyone at bay whose dedication to the job is suspect. This view is supported by an NOP survey of more than 500 small firms, which found that about 30% were denying their staff the right to work flexibly despite the threat of tribunal proceedings.

Some companies will goe any lengths. Employers would like to devise a recruitment process in favour of young, single people. They also mention targeting gay people because they want to limit the use of using money through maternity and paternity leave and the extra cost of providing flexible working.

Contract work can allow job hunters to become self-employed but, although this can suit a few, it can make many people miserable. They complain about missing out on company pension contributions, collective pay rises and feel like outsiders.

Homeworking is another arena that is supposed to provide a new dawn for flexible working, but it can turn sour. Legal experts point to the lack of health and safety checks on homeworkers who often put up with conditions their office-based colleagues would never tolerate.

In spring 2002, a study for the Institute of Employment Studies showed 1.8m workers (nearly 6.5% of all people in employment in the UK) were teleworking - with nearly 400,000 of these teleworkers mainly in their own homes. However the drawbacks include:

-being taken less seriously and being perceived as less committed to a career

-being "passed over" for promotion, particularly if higher level jobs are all full time

- working harder and longer hours on their working days to make up the time

- accepting less salary, bonus and other benefits

- suffering resentment from workers who do not have young children and do not qualify for the right to flexible working.

The workers who wanted flexibility were mainly women. They outnumbered men by nearly four to one. Ms Hewitt said this week: "With more women in work than ever before, employers cannot afford to ignore the benefits of flexible working, including recruitment, retention and staff morale."

adapted from The Guardian, April 10, 2004

NOP = National Opinion Poll


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