06 January 2023

Are UK staff gaining more power?

In some cases, flexibility within a job can be extremely hard to acquire as an employee in the UK. Currently, flexible working requests can be made only after 26 weeks of a job, merely once a year, with 3-month approval times and no appeal process.

Additionally, it is the fear of rejection and guilt of even inquiring that stops most before this. Over the past year Civil Servants working from home were told by Oliver Dowden to “get off their pelotons and get back to work”, whilst others were left “condescending” notes on their desk from Jacob Rees-Mogg. This scornful treatment of employees leaves them feeling helpless in terms of approaching their employer.

However, the steady stream of unfilled vacancies that the labour industry is currently experiencing means that power may be shifting to the employee. A survey from the company Royal London shows that workers view flexibility as important or even non-negotiable within job applications. Flexible roles (contingent work, freelance positions) are favourable to an ever-changing workforce as it allows them to work on their own terms, which is why companies risk losing out on skilled labour when it comes to employee experience and retention.

In early December, ministers said they planned “to make flexible working the default”, with The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) announcing plans to give employees the right to request flexible working from the first day of starting a new job. They also said that 1.5 million low-paid workers, zero-hour contractors, students and carers would benefit from the hike in income that a second job may afford.

Of course, whilst not everyone will want a second job, this move removes any hinderance to those that do, such as some gig economy workers, or those that are in situations that meaning that they cannot commit to a full-time role.

Whilst Frances O’Grady, the TUC’s general secretary, welcomes this legislation she explains that the government needs “to go much further to ensure flexible work now becomes the norm”.  Whether this will lead to monumental change will be seen in time. However, this is a step in the direction of power for a stiffening labour market.