I am pleased to be able to speak in the debate and I thank my colleague Gillian Martin for bringing it to the chamber. As she articulately outlined, flexible working is fundamental to Scotland’s economy and is the key to helping our society flourish at every level. It is also the key to establishing a healthy work-life balance for families.
That is why I am delighted that the Scottish Government, whose transformative changes to childcare are due to be trialled in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders early next year, recognises that a free, high-quality and flexible childcare system helps children, parents and families the length and breadth of the country.
Of course, flexible childcare ties in with flexible working. For parents it means making it easier to juggle their time between working and looking after the children, and it means that they no longer have to turn down a job offer because they cannot meet the 9-to-5 timetable. We have come a long way from the days of my mother’s generation, when women had to give up work when they had a baby.
We only have to look to our Scandinavian neighbours for examples: Sweden, like Denmark and the Netherlands, has adopted a policy to improve the work-life balance for its citizens. The Swedish Government has taken the initiative to reduce the work-life conflict, experienced mostly by women, by promoting men’s participation in housework and the upbringing of children. Parental leave is structured so that it encourages men to stay at home more with their newborn babies, as Gillian Martin and Liam Kerr mentioned in their speeches. It is no coincidence that the Danes have just been voted the happiest nation on the planet due to their progressive work-life balance employment structure, and who does not envy the wonderful Spanish tradition of siesta time? Those are examples of flexible working practices at their best.
The Scottish economy is one that is adapting to a modern world, as Gillian Martin outlined. Advances in technology have made it possible for us to work anywhere at any time. With a laptop, tablet, or phone we can access the files at work and pick up from where we left off. It has been proved beyond all doubt that giving employees the option of flexible hours is hugely beneficial, both to employees and to the employers. For employers it means a happier staff who can work in the hours when they feel most motivated, instead of sitting in front of a desk when they are tired and cannot focus. For businesses, it means a more efficient workforce that increases overall productivity.
I recently spoke at a chamber of commerce meeting and was asked by one member what financial help he would get from the Scottish Government to enable him to pay the living wage, about which I had just been talking. I had to be diplomatic in my answer and explain about the expansion of the small business bonus scheme and so on, but I really wanted to ask him why he thought it was acceptable to call himself a businessman and pay less than the living wage to his employees.
Like the living wage, flexible working is about respecting employees and trusting them to give 100 per cent to the job without having to compromise their family life. In short, flexible working motivates a happier workforce and has the result of benefiting everyone in society.