June 2001 The UK government took a truly momentous
step in making working hours more flexible for employees.
Or at least that's how the media reported it. The reality
was very different. But first, some background...
In the last 30 years, labour-saving technology has advanced
faster than any other time in history. Yet despite this advance,
working hours have, on average, increased (eg see: UK Labour
Force Survey, Historical Supplement and Quarterly Supplement,
Autumn 1999). The UK government recognises that long working
hours are a problem for parents raising children, and has
often promised "family friendly" employment policies.
So, after years of consultation and deliberation, the government
announced what it would do. And what brave and outrageously
innovative thinking it came up with. The government would...
wait for it... give parents the right to ask employers
for flexible hours. And employers would have the right to
refuse. And that's it.
Funnier still: Business groups claim the government went
too far, and that business would suffer if workers had the
right to ask for shorter hours.
(We're not putting you on. This is exactly how the "serious"
media reported it).
Sources: BBC Radio 4 'Today' and Guardian Unlimited website,
Meanwhile, according to the Guardian (4/8/2001), research
shows that office workers are increasingly expected to take
work home, further fuelling the UK's reputation for its long-hours