All employees should be given the right to work from home after the Covid-19 pandemic ends, Labour has said.
The party’s shadow employment rights secretary Angela Rayner said on Saturday that the government should introduce a “default presumption” that flexible working would be permitted in law.
The call comes after Downing Street said it had no plans to bring in the reforms, despite a 2019 Tory manifesto commitment to make home working “the default unless employers have good reasons not to”.
A government taskforce on flexible working is currently reviewing the issue, which has shot up the agenda since the Covid-19 pandemic.
Under the current regulations a quarter of employees worked remotely in 2020, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.
But government guidelines encouraging employees to work from home where possible are expected to end in the next few months, when the government plans to lift the remaining Covid-19 restrictions.
“As we emerge from this pandemic we have an opportunity to fundamentally change working practices for the better and to improve the lives of working people,” said Ms Rayner.
“Giving workers the right to work flexibly if they want to, and the right to switch off, will enable more people to enjoy the benefits of flexible working, from a better work-life balance to spending less time commuting and more time with their family.”
She added: “As restrictions lift and we adjust to a ‘new normal’, we need a new deal for working people. As a starting point this must mean the right to flexible working – not just the right to ask for flexibility – and a duty on employers to accommodate this unless there is a reason a certain job can’t be done flexibly.
“It is clear that the government won’t act to strengthen rights for working people, and we cannot have a drawn-out consultation process that simply kicks this urgent issue into the long grass, leaving workers in a vulnerable position and allowing employers to dictate terms to their staff.”
Labour said that as well as a right to flexible working for all workers by default, there should also be “an accompanying duty on employers to accommodate this as far as is reasonable and practical where there is no reason a job cannot be done flexibly and remotely”.
Ms Rayner also said it was important that workers be given the “right to switch off” so that homes were not turned into “24/7 offices”.
She said there should be a plan to help small and medium-sized businesses adapt to the new normal, and new rights to protect people from remote surveillance by bosses, as well as proper sick pay for those who need to self-isolate.
Asked about the issue on Thursday, a Downing Street spokesperson said: “We’ve asked people to work from home where they can during the pandemic, but there are no plans to make this permanent or introduce a legal right to work from home … It is important to stress that there are no plans to make working from home the default, or introduce a legal right to work from home.”