Parents forced into low-paid jobs by long working hours

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The Independent Online

Britain's long hours culture is forcing increasing numbers of parents into part-time jobs with poor prospects as they struggle to combine careers with childcare, according to a report published tomorrow.

Britain's long hours culture is forcing increasing numbers of parents into part-time jobs with poor prospects as they struggle to combine careers with childcare, according to a report published tomorrow.

The investigation by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) will also reveal that women in particular are giving up work altogether or settling for part-time jobs for which they are overqualified because employers refuse to offer them flexible hours on a decent wage.

The EOC findings are based on a survey of more than 2,000 part-time workers about their levels of job satisfaction and the attitudes of their employers.

Julie Mellor, the chair of the EOC, says that Britain faces "a crisis" unless it moves away from a full-time model of work to a more "family friendly economy".

"A large number of people are channelled into low paid part-time work or may decide to leave work altogether because of a culture of inflexible working and long hours and a lack of childcare," she said.

Britain tops the league of countries with the longest working hours. Nearly four million people in the UK work more than 48 hours a week as employers ignore European limits. This has been branded a "national disgrace" by unions.

Later this month, ministers will attempt to address the misery of part-time workers by proposing an extension of flexible working rights. Under current employment laws, only the bosses of parents with children up to the age of six are obliged to offer them flexible hours which allow them to fit their work in around their childcare.

However, the Department of Trade and Industry will launch a consultation outlining plans to offer this benefit to carers of older children. There are currently 7.4 million part-time workers in the UK, according to official government figures, and nearly 80 per cent of these are women. But they are earning 40 per cent less per hour than men working full-time, which is not much of an improvement on 30 years ago.

In 2003 the Government introduced the right to flexible working but the EOC said this has yet to open up opportunities to those in senior jobs.

Yesterday Patricia Hewitt, the Government's minister for women, made the issue of family-friendly policies and work central to her speech at Labour's spring conference.

Speaking in Gateshead, Ms Hewitt said that a third-term Labour Government would extend maternity leave first to nine months and eventually a full year, and would allow parents to choose whether it was the mother or father who stayed at home, she said.

There would be more free nursery care for three and four-year-olds, employees will be given the right to eight paid bank holidays a year, and there will be flexible working rights for carers looking after old people.

Ms Hewitt said that making life easier for families was also good for business: "Giving every child the best start in life and every adult the chance to learn and to earn is just as vital for economic success as it is for social justice."

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