Call for flexible work hours for carers

The federal government should change workplace laws to allow greater flexibility for carers, an independent review has found.

But the review panel stopped short of recommending an appeal mechanism for workers knocked back by employers for flexible hours to care for children, the aged or disabled.

The report, released by Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, last week, said the range of caring situations should be broadened.

Under existing laws, an employer can reject a request for flexible work arrangements - to care for children under school age and children with a disability under 18 years - on reasonable business grounds.

These include such things as financial impact, efficiency, productivity, customer service and the inability to reorganise work among existing staff.

But unions and carers argued that employers were taking a dim view of workers asking for time to care for school aged children, adult dependants with a disability and elderly parents.

The review panel argued the right should be enforceable, as employers do not have to show they have properly considered a request, and employees can only appeal against decisions if provided for under an enterprise agreement.

Some business groups said "reasonable business grounds" should be specified in law, while others said the existing system works well.

A Fair Work Australia survey last year showed that 81% of businesses had granted requests under the Act.

International studies have shown workplaces offering flexible working arrangements benefit from higher productivity and better employee relations.

The report said employers were "taking the provisions seriously", but recommended the scope of caring arrangements should be expanded to "reflect a wider range of caring responsibilities".

However, the panel rejected the need for an appeal mechanism, saying it would not provide a guarantee that a right to request would eventually succeed.

Instead it recommended the Act be changed to ensure a request can only be refused after the employer has held at least one meeting with the employee to discuss the request.

Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Cassandra Goldie said that as the workforce ages more parents and carers would be drawn into paid jobs.

"This is a great opportunity for employers to attract them by offering more flexible and predictable working hours," Dr Goldie told AAP.

"By nudging employers and employees towards more flexible arrangements, the 'right to request' can make a difference and we support its extension to carers of people with disabilities."

Are you a carer? Share your thoughts on this article by commenting in the box below.