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September 22, 2008

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Firms fear employment rules could hurt flexible gains

The number of employers offering flexible forms of work has soared over the past few years, but many are concerned that employment rules are threatening to nullify the gains to business productivity that such flexible-working policies have promoted.

This is the conclusion of the latest CBI/Pertemps Employment Trends Survey, published on 9 September.

According to the findings, almost half of employers (46 per cent) who responded to the survey said they now offer teleworking to staff, which is a significant increase from 14 per cent two years ago, and 11 per cent in 2004.

Other forms of flexible working have also become more common, particularly term-time working and job sharing, while employers have also become increasingly supportive of staff looking to take career breaks, or sabbaticals.

The survey, which quizzed 513 respondents employing more than 1m staff, showed that although flexible working has been a success, with 93 per cent of employers offering at least one form of flexible working, and 57 per cent offering at least three, a deep concern persists among employers about other areas of employment law.

Two out of five businesses fear that losing the opt-out from the Working Time Directive would have a severe or significant impact on their business — as, according to the research, 29 per cent of staff currently sign the opt-out. An even greater proportion of employers (64 per cent) felt that ‘cumbersome’ employment regulation, such as the Temporary Agency Workers Directive, which strives to give agency staff equal rights in areas like holiday and sick pay, is endangering the labour market’s flexibility.

John Cridland, CBI deputy director-general, said: “The economy is clearly struggling, and now is not the time for the EU to weaken its commitment to the opt-out from the Working Time Directive, which remains a paramount concern for many businesses.

“Right now, the Government needs to recognise that businesses are at the limit of what they can absorb. If employers aren’t given breathing space from workplace legislation, then jobs will be put at risk.”

The TUC hit back at the CBI’s findings, describing it as looking through “rose-tinted glasses”. The union body’s recent YouGov survey of more than 2500 people at work found that 44 per cent of workers don’t have proper chances to learn new skills, and 37 per cent don’t enjoy flexible working arrangements.

TUC head of campaigns, Nigel Stanley, commented: “The truth is that while most employers treat their staff reasonably well most of the time, workers need proper protection from the minority who do not.”

A separate report by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions shows that UK workers put in 41.4 hours a week on average — the longest in western Europe, and only 18 minutes fewer than eastern European states Bulgaria and Romania.

To view the TUC survey, What workers want — an agenda from the workplace, click here.

The European Foundation’s report can be found by clicking here

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