Flexible working ‘could be dropped’

Government plans for flexible working could become one of the first casualties of the economic downturn.

New business secretary Peter Mandelson has suggested the plans may be dropped in an effort to help businesses cope by reducing regulations.

No decisions have yet been made but the department for business confirmed the policy was being reappraised.

“The government is absolutely focused on helping business, particularly small business, to cope with the current economic downturn,” a spokesman said.

“As well as looking at cashflow and access to finance, we are looking at the appropriateness of new regulations that are due to come into force – that includes employment regulations. We can confirm that no decisions to halt regulations have been made.”

Trade Union Congress (TUC) general secretary Brenden Barber reacted angrily, saying: “Postponing a simple right to request flexible working would not save a single job in the small business sector.

“This would be an astonishingly irrelevant response to the severe economic downturn that we face and, in addition, would run the risk of sending a message to working parents that the government is not on their side.”

But the idea drew praise from the Insitute of Directors (IoD).

Its director-general, Miles Templeman, said: “If the government now thinks that creating new employment rights would impose new burdens on small businesses it is surely right to abandon the proposals completely, rather than just delay their introduction.

“If it’s a bad idea now, it will still be a bad idea in a year’s time.”

Promises to extend flexible working rights from parents of children up to the age of six to 16 encouraged party members at the Labour conference last September.