UK should seize pandemic ‘opportunity’ to work more flexibly, says review chief

Peter Cheese said different forms of working should be 'part of the norm' in wake of coronavirus.

UK should seize pandemic ‘opportunity’ to work more flexibly, says review chief

LONDON — The coronavirus pandemic has offered a “generational opportunity” to work more flexibly, according to the chair of a review into the issue for the U.K. government.

Peter Cheese said the coronavirus was “absolutely fueling” the idea that flexible working “can and should be seen as just as much an acceptable way of working as a more standard five-day working week.”

His comments, in an interview with POLITICO, come as Cheese’s “flexible working task force” weighs the legal ramifications of employment in the post-pandemic era.

The coronavirus forced an overnight revolution in working practices, with staff sent home and having to dial into meetings via video conferencing — leaving many city centers empty of the usual professionals. It has prompted a new focus on how staff balance their work and private lives, and there have been calls to maintain some aspects of remote working, part-time work and job sharing, as well as an insistence that people who must attend a workplace do not lose out.

“These different forms of working should be seen as part of the norm,” said Cheese — arguing the U.K. should “move away” from the simple nine-to-five culture. “There are a variety of mechanisms by which you can support people in these more flexible ways of working, which can be helpful in terms of inclusion and wellbeing and balance of life.”

Cheese, chief executive of industry group the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), criticized the “mixed messaging” from ministers over whether people should return to workplaces or continue at home once the pandemic subsides.

Towards the end of the first wave in Britain, there was briefing from within government that people would be forced back to offices. That never happened because a second wave of the virus prevented the easing of restrictions. But now the U.K. government is expected to take a more nuanced approach and leave decisions up to businesses, something Cheese believes is the right move both as Britain emerges from the pandemic and beyond it.

“I don’t think this is about the government, at any level, getting involved in what practices businesses should be employing or how they should think about recruitment or whatever,” he said. “Those are things for businesses to resolve.” He added that a discussion solely about working from home risks polarizing the debate, when improving the working situation for the most people involves multiple factors like more flexible hours.

Cheese said his task force is not expected to suggest changing contracts or other employment terms in its ongoing review of the legal landscape for flexible working, which is expected soon. And while he refused to be drawn on what the task force might recommend in a second planned review about increasing flexible working, he sounded hopeful when pressed on whether the U.K. could be moving towards a four-day week culture.

“I don’t think we’re at that point,” he said. “But, who knows? I think if we can really make some of these things work for us, if we can really make technology enable [a] better balance of work, and all those other things help us all, then maybe we will see more of those sorts of things being adopted.”

He added: “If I said something was going to change, maybe […] what we refer to as the standard five-day working week — that’s what will begin to change. And it could emerge in lots of different forms, one of which could be a four-day working week.”

But Cheese said any such change would come from “emergent practice” rather than law: “In other words, organizations starting to do things like that, rather than government edicts.”

The Conservative manifesto pledged to “encourage flexible working and consult on making it the default unless employers have good reasons not to.” The CIPD is among the organizations to recommend staff get the right to flexible working options from their start date, instead of after 26 weeks service, which is the current rule.

Overall, Cheese argued, considerations about the future of work will be about creating a balance between individuals and their employers and encouraging firms to trust people more on their output rather than their input. But the rethink prompted by the pandemic is here to stay, and Cheese predicts the pandemic will be a “catalyst” for flexible working “being seen as a norm and not an exception.”

Source : Politico EU More   

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Swedish government on the brink after PM Löfven loses no-confidence vote

Vote in parliament means Swedish prime minister can either call a snap election or try to form a new coalition.

Swedish government on the brink after PM Löfven loses no-confidence vote

STOCKHOLM — A clash over housing policy in Sweden led to a full-blown government crisis on Monday as a fragmented parliament withdrew its support for Social Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. 

In a vote of no confidence, 181 lawmakers voted against Löfven, with 109 in favor and 51 abstentions. It was the first time ever that a Swedish prime minister has lost a vote of no confidence. 

Löfven now has a week to decide between two options: He can call a snap election, or resign and try to build a new governing coalition without a new election. If he picks the latter and fails, opposition parties would then be given a chance to try and form a government. If they cannot do so, a snap election would be called, likely in the fall, a year ahead of the next scheduled election. 

In voting to remove Löfven, lawmakers from the Left Party — whose withdrawal of support from the prime minister on Thursday led to the vote — were joined by erstwhile rivals from the center-right Moderate Party and Christian Democrats and the increasingly influential far-right Sweden Democrats (SD). 

“We aren’t taking this step lightly, we have done everything we can to solve this situation, but now we are where we are,” Left Party leader Nooshi Dadgostar told fellow lawmakers in parliament before the vote. “We must keep our word … we must stand on the side of the tenants.”

Dadgostar ended her backing for Löfven after he moved forward with a plan to weaken controls on Swedish apartment rents — which are designed to make housing costs more manageable for tenants — in order to meet a demand from another of his allies, the Centre Party. 

The Centre Party believes easing rent controls will stimulate the building of new apartments that Sweden’s big cities need. 

That such a narrow issue could cause the government’s breakdown reflects both the significance of housing policy as a political issue in Sweden and also how the fragmentation of parliament has made it harder for lawmakers to reach consensus on key issues. 

Like many European nations, from Finland to France and from Germany to Greece, Sweden has seen the emergence of an influential far-right anti-immigration political party, in this case SD. 

As support for SD as a new power in politics has risen to around 20 percent, traditional mainstream center-left and center-right parties have found it increasingly difficult to form coalitions with a functioning majority. 

Sweden’s center-right parties long refused to discuss policy with SD and the country’s center-left parties continue to do so. 

After the last election in 2018, it took Löfven four months to form a government because he needed to cajole two new centrist allies — the Centre Party and the Liberals — to back his government in order to secure a second term in office. 

To strike that deal, Löfven promised the Centre Party he would allow rents on new-build apartments to be set by landlords rather than via collective bargaining between tenants’ associations and landlords as they are now. 

The Left Party said if Löfven ever made good on that promise it would withdraw its support from him. 

While the Left Party’s move against Löfven was driven by its desire to mark its displeasure over his direction on housing policy, the other parties that backed the no-confidence vote did so because they want to try and form a replacement government themselves. 

Ebba Busch, the leader of the Christian Democrats, said the vote had come about because Löfven had made incompatible commitments to his allies and it was now time to remove him. 

“We said we would do all we can to give Sweden a new leadership,” she said. “We said we would take every chance to remove this government, and today we make good on our word.”

SD leader Jimmie Åkesson called Löfven’s government “destructive” and said it should be thrown on the “rubbish tip of history.” 

“This has been a historically weak government which has been totally unable to solve the problems people meet in their daily lives,” Åkesson said. “This government should never have taken power.” 

At a press briefing after the vote, Löfven said he planned to use the next week to decide on his next steps and he would begin with talks with the party leaders who have backed him so far.

A decision on a way forward may not take the full week, he said. 

“We’ll have to see,” he said. “My main focus has to be on what is best for Sweden.”

Source : Politico EU More   

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