Mothers have right to request flexible work

A RECENT survey by the Department of Trade and Industry has found that one third of mothers are not fully aware of their right to request flexible working conditions. In fact, many employers are also not clear on the new maternity legislation introduced in April.

Despite new legal maternity rights, employers are still taking advantage of their female employees. According to research by the Chartered Management Institute, the gender pay-gap among managers expanded last year for the first time in more than a decade. In the year 2007, male managers were paid 12.2 per cent more than female managers, compared with 11.8 per cent the previous year.

The income penalty of having children is higher in the UK than in any other country across Europe. Women are less able to combine work and care for their family due to weak maternity and paternity entitlements, and limited childcare provision, compared with other European countries. But as women now represent half the workforce, a successful return to work is crucial to ensure employers remain profitable.

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After the introduction of the flexible working legislation in 2003, 55 per cent of female employees now work flexible hours - including job share and part-time. But women taking up part-time positions can expect a reduction in earning potential, with salaries 28 per cent lower per hour when compared with a full-time position.

Research by the charity Working Families shows the positive impact that allowing workers to balance the demands of work can have on productivity, absenteeism and turn-over. Good employers know this and act on it. Flexible working should be seen in its broadest sense - it can mean changing working hours, job-sharing or working from home.

Women are still expected to take the majority of the responsibility for the family, even if they work. In fact, women in a full-time job spend 30 per cent more time on childcare than men in full-time employment. And help at home with children is limited as British men work some of the longest hours in Europe.

With such pressures at home and at work, mothers need support and advice on how they are going to make their family life work. The price of not supporting them is costing the economy through stress-related illness and brain-drain if they leave the workforce.

• Samantha Pringle is the Director of Beeleaf Consulting. To reserve a free place for a "Back to work without a Bump" event, contact [email protected]; tel: 07954433659

• Returning mothers can get free advice at or, or by calling 0800 013 0313

• Muriel Robson, of the Equal Opportunities Commission Scotland, will be speaking about flexible working rights on September 26 at Edinburgh maternity boutique Vanilla Bloom.

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