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Making flexible working the default – ReWAGE consultation response

ReWAGE has responded to the government's recent flexible working consultation, which proposes reforms to the flexible working regulations first set out in 2014 and seeks views on the wider work being undertaken by the government to encourage and support flexible working.

In its response to the consultation, a ReWAGE sub-group said that there are very strong economic and equality arguments for making the right to request flexible working available to all employees from the first day of employment.

Immediate flexibility would empower people to move around the job market and change jobs, rather than being ‘trapped’ in their current role. Being able to change jobs enables people to build up skills and experience, which can help to reduce skills shortages - an increasing consideration in today’s economy.

The right to request flexible working enables those who need to consider personal or family responsibilities alongside their working arrangements to maintain their professional position and continue to use the skills that they have developed. Previously, many mothers and others with responsibilities felt obliged to leave their employer and often take a part-time job that involved occupational downgrading – meaning that they were less likely to maintain their skills and employment status.

The sub-group also argues that a requirement to include flexible working possibilities in job adverts would encourage more people to apply – and would enable those employers that make flexible working openly available to enjoy positive reputational impacts. In addition, employers should not be allowed to state that flexibility is not available if they already have employees working flexibly in similar jobs.

Flexibility as a default should mean that the request is granted, unless the employer would face unusual and difficult conditions in granting it. Given the widespread evidence of limited negative impacts of flexible working on productivity during the pandemic, and the rapid changes to work arrangements that came about under Covid, there are increasingly fewer reasons to say no.