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Mums are being refused workplace flexibility – new report

Half of working mums don’t get the flexibility they request at work, according to a new survey published by the TUC and campaigner Mother Pukka.

Almost 13,000 mums across the public and private sector responded to the survey about flexible working. One in two (50%) told the TUC that their current employer had rejected or only accepted part of their flexible working request.

Current flexible work system is broken – ministers must fix it  The legal ‘right to request’ flexible working has been in place for around 20 years. But the survey shows the current system is broken, says the TUC.

Too many workers have their requests turned down – and those who get flexible working face discrimination and disadvantage as a result.

The survey also revealed that attitudes to flexible work need to change:

  • Outdated attitudes:Many women told the TUC they are put off asking for flexible working. Two in five (42%) said they were worried about their employers’ negative reaction. Others thought there was no point asking as it would just be turned down (42%). Only one in 20 (5%) working mums who hadn’t made a flexible working request said it was because they didn’t need it.
  • Discrimination: Most (86%) of women working flexibly said that they have faced discrimination and disadvantage at work due to their flexible work arrangements.
  • Job interviews: Two in five (42%) mums told the TUC that they would not feel comfortable asking about flexible working in a job interview because they thought they would be discriminated against.

Flexible working isn’t just home working – it also includes options like job sharing, agreed predictable hours, term-time working, flexitime and condensed hours. The TUC notes that some form of flexible working would be suitable for every job – there are no jobs where all forms of flexible working should be ruled out.

“Overwhelming” support for flexible work
The TUC argues that support for flexible work being the default or normal way of working is “overwhelming”. More than nine out of 10 (92%) of working mums who currently work flexibly told the TUC they would find it difficult or impossible to do their job without it.

Working mums who completed the survey said that:

  • The government should make employers advertise flexible working in job ads – with the successful candidate having the right to take up this flexibility from their first day at work (99% of respondents).
  • They would be more likely to apply for a job if it included the specific types of flexible working available in the advert (99%).
  • The government should give all workers the right to flexible working from day one in the job (96%).

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “There is overwhelming support for mums and all working parents to be able to work flexibly to manage their work and caring commitments.

“It’s time to make flexible working the norm as we emerge from the pandemic. It’s the best way to keep women in work and to close the gender pay gap.

“But the current system is broken. Employers still have free rein to turn down requests for flexible working. And women are too scared to ask for flexible working at job interviews, for fear of being discriminated against.

“Ministers need to do more than just tinker with a flawed system. They need to change the law so that all jobs are advertised with flexible options clearly stated, and all workers have the legal right to work flexibly from their first day in a job.”

Founder of Mother Pukka Anna Whitehouse added: “I started the Flex Appeal movement after my flexible working request was denied in 2015. I asked to arrive 15 minutes earlier so I could leave 15 minutes earlier to make nursery pick-up. My request was denied for fear it might ‘open the floodgates’ to others seeking flexibility.

“I left, I quit, I broke and I felt redundant – like the 54,000 women every year who lose their jobs for simply having a baby.

“In December 2019, the Queen announced flexible working as a key focus for the Employment Bill. Flexible working is firmly on Whitehall’s table, but in 2021, 50% of working mums are still having their requests turned down.

“There is a break in the floodgates, but the legal right to flexible working must be made available from the get-go if we’re going to finally change this outdated and discriminative system for good.”

Stronger government action needed
The TUC is calling on the government to:

  • Unlock the flexibility in all jobs: Employers should think upfront about the flexible working options that are available in a role, publish these in all job adverts and give successful applicants a day one right to take it up.
  • Make flexible working a genuine legal right from the first day in a job: Workers should be allowed to work flexibly from day one, unless there are exceptional circumstances that prevent it. They should have the right to appeal any rejections. And there shouldn’t be a limit on how many times you can ask for flexible working arrangements in a year.