Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Okay, so you cannot

"have it all" - or can you? It seems the government is now going to legislate so that people will have the "right" to ask for part-time work and "flexible" working arrangements.  The government has also said it is not going to require employers to provide part-time work or be flexible. 
Or is this just where the legislation is heading? It is where the Greens would like it to go. The unions would like it too. The Greens have some extraordinary ideas. Many of them sound good but they are completely impractical. The unions would be happy. It would keep their members in employment and allow them further control over employers. 
The government has also said that this will make it easier for mothers returning to work to keep their jobs, for people with disabilities to get jobs and for people who are victims of domestic violence to retain their positions. No doubt they will also suggest that it will mean older people can continue to work longer.
All this seems a bit odd to me. People already have that right. There is nothing to stop people from asking for part-time work or flexible working arrangements. Many people do work part-time. Flexibility is more of an issue but there are flexible working arrangements.
Our rubbery employment figures have a large "part-time" and "under-employed" component. There are many "employed" people who would like to work more hours. 
There has to be a reason for this legislation and I doubt it  has anything to do with the right to ask for part-time employment because that has always existed. I suspect it has more to do with gradually trying to bring in a requirement that employers must offer part-time employment and must offer "flexible" arrangements, arrangements which suit the employee rather than the employer.
It is more expensive to employ two people part time than it is to employ one person full time if the work is there in such a way that it can be handled by one full time person. If employers choose to employ people part time then there is usually a good reason for it. The work is available at that time. Perhaps the worker has skills the employer values but does not always need or perhaps they want to retain the employee but know the employee cannot return to work full time just yet.
But this legislation seems to be about employees. It seems to be about individuals deciding that a part-time job would be nice or that  keeping their job and having the flexibility to take days off when they feel like it or because the kids are sick is what they want. It all sounds quite reasonable. Why should someone not be able to work if they have children? Why shouldn't they be able to take time off if their kids are sick or need to go to the dentist or it happens to be school holidays? If you had a violent row with your partner the night before then you should be able to take the day off. If you feel too ill to come to work or the care staff who give you a shower are late arriving then you should just be able to take the time off without penalty. Or should you?
The employer really does not matter in all of this. The employer is there to provide the employment. If the employee cannot get there then it is the employer who should bear the cost of work not getting done and contracts being broken - with the consequent financial penalties. 
Or should they?
I don't know what the answer is but I do know that once you start legislating for anything then things usually become less flexible. Legislation about rights for one group will almost certainly erode rights for other groups. Legislating to enshrine a right which already exists can have nothing to do with the right. It will be used as a political bargaining tool. The government is almost certainly hoping to slip something in now and use it later.
I am worried about the way they may use it and just who might end up being disadvantaged by it.  

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