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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Working Smarter

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

At the launch of Work Wise UK at the Queen Elizabeth conference centre in London Meg gave the following speech. Work Wise UK is a campaign to encourage the adoption of smarter working practices, such as flexible working, mobile working, remote working and working from home, including by exploiting new technology better. For further details visit: http://www.workwiseuk.org/index.html


I am pleased to be here to speak at the launch of this important campaign. 


I am grateful to the ‘IT Forum Foundation’ for organising this event, bringing together a wide range of interested groups - professional bodies and trade unions, the private and public sectors.


Smarter working should be integral in a modern economy.   It increases productivity, competitiveness and helps our economy perform better in the global marketplace. It also helps people - it enables us to lead more fulfilled lives - having greater choice about how we balance our work with our family commitments. These flexible working practices benefit us all.


Benefits of Flexible Working

A number of employers are already embracing smarter ways of working.  They have experienced the benefits that flexible working brings:

  • Higher levels of motivated and committed staff
  • Lower levels of absenteeism
  • Lower staff turnover
  • Lower recruitment and training costs
  • The ability to retain skills within the organisation 


Advances in technology are making it easier for employers to adopt more innovative ways of working.  The Government’s Digital Strategy has done a fantastic job, enabling more people to have access to these technologies.  Now over 99% of households in the UK can access broadband, giving us all the opportunity to work from home or on the move.


In addition the culture of the workplace is changing.  Latest figures show that 47% of mothers work flexi-time compared to just 17% in 2002. The numbers have almost tripled of new fathers now working flexibly.  It need no longer be the norm for people to travel to work in the rush hour and sit at their desk every day on the week - now we can log on at home, check e-mails and then take the child to school. 


My own Department has embraced flexible working practices - hot desking, compressed hours and home working are becoming more common. This is a far cry from the time when a woman would be asked to resign when she got married.  


Flexible Working Law

The Government is encouraging this win-win situation by promoting the benefits of work-life balance policies, alongside targeted, light touch legislation.  


The right to request flexible working, introduced in 2003, has been a tremendous success. It helps many people in changing their working patterns. Almost a quarter of employees with dependent children under six have asked to work flexibly in the last two years.  Only around 10% of these flexible working requests are being declined.


This success is due to the law’s targeted approach.  Organisations have been able to introduce and extend flexible working at a pace they can manage. This measured approach has enabled them to see the benefits; they have then offered flexible working opportunities to more staff.  We now have 5.4 million employees working through some form of flexible working arrangement. 


Work and Families Bill

The Work and Families Bill currently going through Parliament will give families real choices about how to balance their work and caring responsibilities. It will help organisations to recruit and retain people from the widest pool of talent.


We are extending maternity pay from six to nine months, towards the goal of a year’s paid leave. This will make it easier for women to have a genuine choice about when they return to work.  Fathers will have a new right to additional paternity leave so that they can take a greater role in bringing up their children.  Something we know both mothers and fathers value.


The Bill also extends the right to request flexible working to carers of adults.  There are 6.5 million people in the UK with caring responsibilities.  Around 3.5 million of them are working.  This new law will help carers who want to stay in work, to better balance their caring and work responsibilities. It will also enable employers to keep their skills within the workplace.


An important element in the success of these policies is working closely with business to help them manage the changes.   We are introducing measures to make administration simpler for employers, to help them plan around the period of maternity leave.   The package will be supported by guidance so that both employers and employees are aware of their rights and responsibilities.


Women and Work Commission

The Women and Work Commission’s report was published in February. They said that improving the availability of quality part time work was a crucial part of tackling the gender pay gap.  But they also saw encouraging trends in what firms are doing. For example, Microsoft UK opened flexible working to all employees in 2003 - and this has had measurable business benefits in terms of staff retention and morale. I am in no doubt however that many more companies could benefit from similar policies; the pay gap between full time men and part time women has hardly narrowed over the past 30 years, as part-time workers are crowded into a limited number of lower-paying sectors.


Encouraging the growth of smarter working

We’ve seen evidence that flexible working is making a difference to people’s lives.  But to really change the way we work and maximise the benefits for everyone, we need to encourage the widespread adoption of smarter working practices.  


The DTI’s Work Life Balance campaign successfully promoted the language and concept of different ways of working.   The Government continues to encourage employers to offer flexible working opportunities right across the workforce, by demonstrating the business case and encouraging them to follow best practice.  


In September last year, we launched a report with the CBI and TUC called ‘Managing Change - Practical Ways to Reduce Long Hours and Reform Working Practices’.  The report shows the diverse and creative ways flexible working is used in different organisations and the positive impact on their bottom line.  Sir Christopher Bland from BT, which was one of the case studies in the report, will be talking later at the conference, so I will leave it to him to expand on what can be achieved with a little creativity.



I am grateful to the ‘IT Forum Foundation’ for the work that has gone into launching the Work Wise UK campaign.   I am sure that with the involvement of so many committed organizations, it will have a very positive impact on people’s lives and the UK economy.

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