Requests for flexible shifts will be harder to turn down

NICK Clegg will this week announce plans to give all workers the right to apply for flexible working hours, with the aim of boosting female employment.

Clegg’s proposals, which could be included in new legislation by 2014, will force firms to consider all requests “in a reasonable way”. At the moment only parents and some carers have the right to request flexible shift patterns.

In a speech tomorrow he is expected to say that too many well-educated women are playing no role in the economy because of “clapped out rules that make no sense for modern families”.

He says the burden of childcare is a major impediment to mothers returning to work. But under the new rules “it will be possible for other relatives, grandparents and even close family friends to change the way they work in order to help with childcare.”

“Just as working women, not men, drove up living standards in the latter half of the 20th century after the Second World War, all the evidence suggests that living standards in the first half of the 21st century will need to be driven by working women once again,” he will say.

“The UK ranks 15th [amongst economically developed nations] for female activity in the economy. This isn’t a new problem: despite rising since the 1960s, female employment has stalled over the last decade. It is, however, a problem we can no longer afford.”

However many companies are concerned that increased flexibility could disrupt their businesses. Last month business leaders raised concerns about the bureaucratic burden of plans – backed by both Clegg and Prime Minister David Cameron – to allow mothers and fathers to share maternity leave.

Neil Carberry, CBI director for employment and skills, said of the latest proposals: “Since the introduction of the right to request flexible working, businesses and employees have worked together to meet their respective needs. Expanding this to all staff is something companies can support, but only if they reserve the right to make the final decision in each case to meet the requirements of the business and different staff.”