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by Ruaraidh Gilmour
05 July 2022
Creating right for flexible working could benefit marginalised groups says stakeholders

Creating right for flexible working could benefit marginalised groups says stakeholders

Creating a right for flexible working could benefit women, disabled people and other marginalised groups, stakeholders have said.

Public services trade union Unison has said flexible working during the pandemic helped many women, who tend to be primary carers, to “balance their responsibilities”.

Charity Disability Equality Scotland said enabling online access meant people could avoid the “inaccessible nature of buildings, the built environment and public transport”.

The comments follow Dr Lila Skountridaki voicing her support for making flexible work a right for certain groups of people at Holyrood’s Digital Transformation event last month.  

Skountridaki, a lecturer in Organisation Studies and Director of MSc Human Resource Management at the University of Edinburgh, cited Portugal, where “it is a right of a parent of young children to work from home”. She also believes that it would be a good idea to include certain protected groups of people in order to promote equity in the workplace.  

Under current UK law, workers are not guaranteed the right to flexible work. Legislation sets out that employees must have been working with their employer for a minimum of 26 weeks before they can qualify for flexible work and workers must apply to their employer to be permitted to work flexibly, but there are a number of reasons that someone could be denied.

According to the UK Government, employers must deal with requests in a ‘reasonable manner’. As a result of ambiguity, ACAS developed a code of practice for flexible working requests. Employers can cite several business reasons for denying an application.  

Flexible work can be defined under this law as working from home, staggered working hours, flexitime and part-time.  

Unison women's officer Josie Irwin said: "Working women have always juggled caring responsibilities with their jobs but it took the pandemic to reveal the extent society still relies on women to be the primary carers.    

"Many women continued to go into their workplaces throughout the lockdowns but working from home helped others balance their responsibilities. Employers were forced to realise staff could work from home and still be productive. But it isn’t for everyone.    

"All employees should have the right to flexible working, which could mean doing all or some of their job from home. But it depends on the individual and their employer as to how that flexibility might be delivered."  

Although powers governing flexible working are reserved to the UK Government, the Scottish Government supports providing flexible working arrangements that help enable workers to enter and remain in the workforce, particularly where they may have health or caring responsibilities.    

The government advise that arrangements between the employers and employees, along with their representative bodies should be agreed upon, to ensure that all parties see the benefit.    

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Hybrid and flexible working practices remain an important part of the Scottish Government’s strategy to adapt to and live with coronavirus.    

“There may also be benefits for employers that go beyond minimising the spread of Covid-19, in attracting and retaining talent while supporting employee wellbeing, promoting the growth of local businesses outside urban centres and saving emissions.”  

Disability Equality Scotland had not directly heard from its members about working from home, however, they offered their findings on moving meetings and events online during the pandemic.  

Chief Executive Officer, Morven Brooks said: “Many of our members have found online meetings and events easier to join. This has been particularly important for allowing people to stay connected throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

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