Thursday, 7 August 2008

Sauce for goose AND gander

I am proud that the Conservatives have committed to policies which will go some way to giving women that choice. We've announced proposals to extend the right to request flexible working to all those with children under the age of 18. We've committed to a flexible parental leave policy which allows maternity leave to be split between both parents. Giving fathers the option to be more involved will give mothers more freedom to go back to work should they wish to. I hope these measures will lead us towards a society in which both parents can choose to fulfil their roles in exactly the way that suits and strengthens their family.
So says Theresa May in a Grauniad article today. I suppose she is basing her opinion as to what men want on an EOC survey.  70% of men questioned said they wished to be more involved in the upbringing of their children.

What I find depressing in such debate is that hardly ever do we hear the employers' response. Whilst I can see that very large organisations have the mass and resources to allow flexible working. When I was a worker, my department had some 30 females of child-bearing age. Almost all of these were customer-facing but were not interchangeable. 

A telephonist could cover for a receptionist but a cleaner could not stand-in for a cook. Apart from anything else, some tasks required health certification and appropriate health and safety training. I cannot see how I would have coped if the flexible working had included dad as well as mum. My budgets and work plans were under constant survey to ensure I had no fat in head-counts. Replacement for flexiworkers could only have come from temporary staff. They again would lack the training and certification. The pressure would have to fall on co-workers exceeding or extending their hours of work. We had a working hours directive. Some of my people - security guards - worked anti-social hours. We had no flexible hours policy and there were sometimes ill feelings when mums had special treatment.

Thankfully, this old slave driver is retired. I still think that a employee has a duty to offer their services to an employer in a responsible manner. If they are likely to find themselves unable to commit to a full pattern of work, they should look elsewhere for employment. I had a keen football player who seemed to incur injury on a regular basis. After a lot of debate with HR, I got them to see he was in frustration of his contract and he was given a choice - conform or ship out. He went and I replaced him with someone who was there to work. The ex-employee broke his leg a short while later and was ruled permanently unable to play. He came back looking for a job and I was able to fit him in. Whether he was just brown-nosing I do not know but he did submit one day what a problem he must have been.

Commercial enterprises stand or fall on their profits. They are not engines for social change. If a company does go to the wall, the flexible as well as the inflexible suffer.

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