Forum: Legislate right to request flexible work arrangements

In our research on the conflict between caregiving and work, the Association of Women for Action and Research has repeatedly asserted the importance of flexible work arrangements (FWAs).

We agree with Dr Petty Pin Yu Chen that FWAs have the potential to close the gender pay gap, which starts to widen in the late 30s when women typically have children (Flexible work arrangements can help narrow gender pay gap, June 24).

The widespread adoption of FWAs can help close a related gap - the retirement savings gap.

Even women without children may experience a "caregiver penalty" when they start caring for an older person, usually in their mid-50s. Much like mothers, these women will either fully or partially withdraw from the labour force and face systemic disadvantages in pay, benefits and perceived commitment to work.

FWAs can be designed to minimise conflict between caregiving and work responsibilities. Yet, their mere availability is not enough.

The Government should legislate a right to request FWAs which employers can turn down only on the basis of business-related reasons defined in legislation.

This right should be extended to all employees, including those on part-time contracts. Extending FWAs to only some employees - for example, mothers - runs the risk of them being resented by their colleagues for having an additional benefit.

Research shows that supportive work policies will not achieve the desired results by themselves if organisations continue to use face time as a proxy for productivity, and lack sufficient trust in their employees to use FWAs responsibly.

A legislated right would also mean establishing formalised human resource processes to evaluate and grant FWAs.

Currently, the choice to stay in or out of the workforce often hinges on employees' ability to balance work and caregiving responsibilities in a world where work and caregiving are fundamentally incompatible.

Astute legislation of FWAs will help to eliminate this unfair choice.

Shailey Hingorani
Head of Research and Advocacy
Association of Women for Action and Research

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