Government’s flexible jobs portal receives lukewarm response from campaigners

Experts call for a change in legislation to make roles flexible by default instead of just a ‘filter on a website’

A flexible working jobs board, launched by the government to help new parents back into work, has been met with a mixed reception by experts and campaigners, who have called for more legal protection for flexible workers.

The new website, launched by work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd, lists more than 40,000 jobs, all advertising some form of flexible working. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has argued that the board would make it easier than ever before for parents to find work.

The jobs board shows users adverts from the government’s existing Find a Job site that offer some form of flexible working, and hosts job adverts from employers all over the country.

But some women’s charities are not optimistic about the site’s potential to help mothers get back into the workplace. 

Sam Smethers, chief executive of women’s rights charity the Fawcett Society, said that while they welcome the focus on flexible working, regulatory changes were needed to make more jobs flexible. "We welcome the government putting effort into promoting flexible working – but now they need to put the law on women's side,” she said.

“We want to see all job opportunities advertised as flexible by default. Otherwise, we risk remaining stuck at about one in 10 jobs being advertised as flexible. That's such a waste.

“If flexible work was on offer all levels, employers would be able to benefit from the skills and expertise of parents and carers, rather than pushing them down the career ladder."

Joeli Brearley, founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, dismissed the flexi-jobs initiative as “hot air” from the government, and echoed calls for jobs to be made “flexible by default”.

“What workers really need are more flexible working roles, rather than other platforms to advertise those roles,” she said. “We need flexible working legislation to be updated so that all jobs are flexible by default. That is what will change the labour market to ensure it works for all employees – not a filter on a website.’'

Both the Fawcett Society and Pregnant Then Screwed supported a private members’ bill tabled earlier this year that would require employers to make all job roles flexible by default. Under the proposal, businesses would have to provide a sound business case for why a role could not be done flexibly.

A DWP spokesperson said the site was meeting a demand for more flexible jobs, noting that the last time it promoted flexible working, the portal attracted 30,000 visits. They added that the government was in the middle of a consultation on proposals to better support parents in balancing work and family life through flexible working.

Launching the site on Sunday, Rudd said the new portal signalled that she was backing new parents, and especially mothers. “For many, it’s when kids start school that mums and dads look to get their careers back on track. [But] still wanting to put your kids first often means work comes second,” she said.

“I want parents to know that I’m backing them, by ensuring that when they want to work, opportunities are available that fit into the world of the breakfast rush, packed lunches and school run.”

The initiative was supported by Fiona Dawson, chair of the Women’s Business Council, who said it would help women find a better work-life balance. Dawson said: “At the Women’s Business Council, we have been looking into ways of supporting women who want to balance work with not just raising a family, but the huge variety of seemingly conflicting priorities, and this portal will do just that.

“From staggered hours to flexi-time and remote working, we are trying to help all women find out about the flexible working options available to them, allowing them to balance their priorities in a way that works,” she said.

Currently, all employees have a statutory right to request flexible working, if they have worked for their employer for 26 weeks. However, employers can turn down requests if they provide a legitimate business reason to do so. A recent poll of workers by the TUC found that almost a third of all flexible working requests are being turned down by employers.