"Flexible" jobs


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, 29/6/01.

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 culture.