By Marcus Leach

Nick Clegg's announcement on a new package offering flexible working arrangements to everyone has, in general, been widely welcomed.

Following the government consultation businesses have said the plan could help them keep talent, but warned it must be simple.

Ministers are now promising a new system, to come into effect in 2015, based on "maximum flexibility". In a speech on Tuesday, the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg is expected to announce:

- A new mother will be able to trigger flexible leave at any point after the first two weeks' recovery period
- Parents will be able to share the remaining 50 weeks between them as they like
- Leave could be taken in turns or at the same time
- Maximum leave will remain 12 months, nine of them on guaranteed pay
- Couples will need to be "open" with employers and give them "proper notice"
- Paternity leave to remain at two weeks but to be reviewed in 2018

Tim Thomas, Head of Employment Policy at EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation said: "In today’s workplace, flexible working is a two-way street. It helps employees balance out their lives inside and outside of work and helps employers secure commitment and flexibility from their workforce. We continue to believe today’s legislation is unnecessary but welcome the government’s attempt to make the process simple.”

However, Dr Adam Marshall, Director of Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), has warned that the changes could put a strain on employee/employer relationships.

"We support the concept of flexible working, but the proposals to extend the right to request to all workers could make it more difficult for employers to offer flexibility to employees who are parents or have caring duties," he said.

"Many employees already benefit from flexible working and in the rare cases where an employer feels they cannot support flexible working, a burdensome new consideration process is very unlikely to change that view."

Commenting on the introduction of flexible parental leave, Mr Thomas, of the EEF, said that the plans for maternity leave are simple and straightforward, and that they must remain that way to be a success.

“Employers can see some advantages from giving parents the flexibility to split parental leave as it will allow some mothers to return to work quicker," he said.

"The key issue has always been ensuring that parental leave is straightforward, so business will welcome the decision to allow leave only in single blocks. However, one issue that the Bill will need to address is notice periods. Companies have increasingly specialist skill needs and will need longer notice than the current eight weeks to arrange cover for an employee who could be away from work for up to 48 weeks.”

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