The Queen’s speech really does get on my tits. Not least because, this year, some of the most interesting policy-proposal in the past few months was dribbled out to a televised audience of ermine-clad, elderly peers in silent ranks – only half of whom have been elected since the Lords reform bills of the past decade – looking disturbingly like something from an Ursula LeGuin novel. Lords expert Meg Russell is damn right to point out that this ‘anachronistic hoopla’ does nothing to strengthen popular faith in politics. I sat through the whole thing half-expecting an exchange along the lines of: ‘we’re reviewing the 28-day terrorism suspect pre-trial bill’! ‘Oh, no, you’re not!’ (They’re not.)
This, however, is the right move. Or, at least, it looks like the right move. Rights to flexible hours for more working parents? Great. Great, because it brings working womens’ issues back into the spotlight. Great, because it might help persuade the voting public that Cameron isn’t the sole Great White Hope of working families. Great – as long as it’s backed up by legislation ensuring that those who then seek flexible hours don’t a)face a drastic salary-cut or b)lose their jobs.
One thing, though. The right is only available to any employee with 12 months’ service. Correct me if I’m wrong, but 12 months, for, say, a woman with a young child attempting to return to work after maternity leave, is a very long time indeed. A proven year-long service record will be no problem for many of the more affluent, middle-aged, middle-class citizens, but it WILL be a problem for the most vulnerable working citizens: contract workers, those in low-paid service industries where jobs are less permanent, immigrants, recent graduates, women returning to work, and the young. Furthermore, this sub-clause will mean the new legislation has no effect on the corporate bullying of the 1 in 16 British workers who are classed as ‘agency workers’ – this includes, for example, a substantial proportion of UK nurses and care workers.
Moreover, it seems that employers will have the right to refuse flexible working hours ‘on the grounds of excessive cost.’ Brilliant: so we’ll have no actual right to flexible hours – but nevermind, at least we’ll have the right to ask for them!
Distinctly below-average, there, Gordon. Must Try Harder.