Ministers tell us to spend less time at work - then they slave away for another 15 hours

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The Independent Online

"Do as I say and not as I do," was the message from government ministers yesterday when they held a breakfast meeting to launch a new initiative to improve people's working lives.

"Do as I say and not as I do," was the message from government ministers yesterday when they held a breakfast meeting to launch a new initiative to improve people's working lives.

At the launch of the campaign to encourage British business to drop the traditional long-hours culture in favour of flexible and part-time working, ministers admitted they regularly worked very long hours and had problems juggling work and family life.

Tony Blair, who opened the meeting but did not have time to stay for breakfast, said: "I suppose we shouldn't be having this meeting. Good work-life balance is about avoiding having breakfast meetings."

Workers should not have to choose between their personal lives and furthering their careers and needed help to juggle the conflicting pressures, the Prime Minister said. "This new approach from employers and the public sector is long over- due. We want to promote a change in culture so people don't feel they have to choose between work and having a family. I have spent my life trying to juggle my work and family life properly."

David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, told the 8.30am meeting that his work-life balance was "completely out of kilter". The previous evening had been a typical example, he said, when a late-night sitting at the Commons meant he had to wait until 2am to feed his dog behind the Treasury building - "That's poor work-life balance for you."

Baroness Jay of Paddington, Leader of the Lords and minister for women, and Margaret Hodge, the Employment and Equal Opportunities minister, were also at the meeting. Mrs Hodge said politicians should lead by example and some changes were being made.

"We had a half-term break for the first time this year and we are looking at improving time tabling in the House of Commons, as well as introducing crÿches," she said. But Mrs Hodge, who has four children, admitted the balance in her life needed improving. "My work-life balance is my pager. It's one of the main ways I speak to my children."

The difficulties of combining a successful career with a decent family and social life were highlighted by research published yesterday, which showed many workers were sacked or forced to resign after being refused requests for changes in working arrangements.

The study of 200 workers by the Equal Opportunities Commission found requests to work part-time, job share or vary hours were turned down in more than half of cases.

The survey included nurses, airline cabin crew, architects, police officers, solicitors, teachers, secretaries, lecturers and managers from banking, arts, human resources and other fields. Julie Mellor, who chairs the commission, said: "Our research indicates that employers are not recognising that their workers need to make contributions to Britain inside and outside of work."

The study showed that one in three people who were not allowed to change their working patterns were either sacked, made redundant or forced to resign. Only one in five workers said their firm had a policy that provided for flexible working. Ms Mellor said: "How can we ever hope to be a clever country when people with other commitments, be they children or other family responsibilities, are treated in such a way?"