The Trades Union Congress has recently carried out extensive research into how working parents are managing their work and childcare, with the results demonstrating that businesses have some way to go to demonstrate a truly supportive agenda for working parents.
Nearly half the parents surveyed confirmed that they were struggling to manage work and childcare, most frequently due to changing shift patterns at short notice. Of concern is the fact that 42 per cent of low-paid young parents feel that their requests for flexible working hours leads to them being penalised at work.
Whilst anti-discrimination laws are already in place that should prevent this happening, more than half the parents interviewed in the survey did not know their employment rights and almost two out of three were unaware of their rights to unpaid parental leave. As a result, they would use sick leave or holidays to cover childcare issues.
The TUC suggests that employers should better support their staff by providing at least one month’s notice of shift patterns and written information about parental rights at work.
The government has recently increased the number of free childcare hours to 30 hours per week to some working parents of children aged three and four; however, the majority of employers require a commitment from their employees to 35 hours per week. This is a conflict that has been highlighted by Working Families, a leading charity that strives for a better work-life balance for parents and carers.
Working Families is also familiar with the fear factor revealed by the TUC’s survey, with parents terrified of appearing not to be fully committed to their job or receiving ‘special treatment’ and therefore being treated differently because they request flexible hours, parental leave, or both. Working Families’ solution is that there should be a general shift by employers to offer all jobs on a flexible basis by default.
There are evidently some jobs that are more easily fulfilled by flexible working arrangements than others; however, the idea that flexible working should be more commonplace is not radical and is not impossible. With the advent of remote working and a 24-hour service culture, a request to work outside the traditional nine-to-five office-based culture – whether on a full-time or part-time basis – should not be seen as an employee demonstrating less commitment but as an attempt to succeed at both work and home.
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