New right to 'flexitime' for 4.5 million parents

The government is to encourage more fathers to work part time or flexible hours so that they can spend more time with their children.

Ministers will promise to extend the right to request flexible working to an extra 4.5 million people in talks with trade unions and Labour activists this weekend. It is currently available to parents with children up to the age of six, and will be extended to those whose children are up to 16.

Senior Labour sources told The Independent yesterday that ministers want to rebalance the party's "family-friendly" policies to recognise the importance for children to see more of their fathers. "The key is to be modern and fair," one said. "Many mums want to work and dads to see their kids, rather than work crazy hours."

Ministers believe that, as well as enabling parents to juggle work and families, the move will help society by ensuring that boys in particular have more contact with their fathers. They hope that over the long term this will reduce problems such as knife crime, which some experts have attributed partly to the absence of male role models in many families.

Under the changes, fathers could also be allowed to take up a larger proportion of parental leave after a baby is born. Labour has announced that the period of paid leave will be raised from 39 to 52 weeks by 2010. The first 26 weeks would have to be taken by the mother, but the other half could be taken by the father if the mother went back to work. The system may now be made more flexible than originally planned.

The moves follow criticism last week that the current system of parental leave has reinforced the equality gap between the sexes in the world of work. Nicola Brewer, chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, asked: "Has policy on maternity leave made too many assumptions about the choices families will make and as a result entrenched the stereotype that it is women who do the caring and men who do the earning?"

The commission declined to comment last night but is expected to give the Labour plans a broad welcome.

Labour sources say the pressure for a new package on flexible working came from constituency Labour parties as well as the trade unions. The new rights are partly intended to placate the unions because ministers will reject other demands on their "shopping list" for Labour's national policy forum at Warwick University – such as allowing a return to secondary picketing during strikes and a 50 per cent tax rate for people earning more than £100,000 a year.

Other possible sweeteners include a pledge to create "green jobs" by expanding renewable energy and nuclear power and having "green representatives" in the workplace like health and safety staff. Ministers hope to reach a broad consensus over the "work-life balance". Unions are also seeking the right for parents to take up to a week a year off work when their children are sick or taking exams, without it counting as holiday.

Some of the proposals may be opposed by business. Kieran O'Keeffe, senior policy adviser at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "It seems that the unions are intent on legalising every element of life at work, which leads many of our members to believe that they're deeply out of touch. The vast majority of businesses already make every effort to accommodate reasonable requests from staff.

"We see no need to augment this with further rights to time off. The Government needs to resist union pressure to heap yet more legal obligations on employers, particularly as economic conditions deteriorate."

Who will benefit

About six million workers, those with children aged six or under, have the right to request to work flexibly – such as part-time, flexible hours or some days from home. Labour plans to extend this to a further 4.5 million parents – those with children aged 16 and under.

It has not yet decided when this would happen, and business groups are urging ministers to phase it in to give firms time to prepare. So far, 90 per cent of requests to work flexibly are already granted – a sign that employers want to keep staff happy.

Parental leave, currently 39 weeks, is due to rise to 52 weeks by 2010, when the first 26 weeks would have to be taken by the mother but the rest could be taken by the father.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
football
Life and Style
Jack Cooksey goes for the grand unveiling - moments before dropping his new iPhone 6 on the floor
iphone launch
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Life and Style
Customers look at the new iPhones on display at the launch of the new Apple iPhone 6 and iphone 6 plus at the Apple IFC store in Hong Kong
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Sport
Andros Townsend is challenged by Vladimir Volkov
football
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Science Technician

£7 - £8 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: The Job:School Science Technici...

School Administrator

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Long term SIMS School Administr...

Nursery assistants required across Cambridgeshire

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

SEN 1:1 Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a qualified teache...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week