PROPOSED amendments to the National Employment Standards will include a right for parents returning to work from parental leave to request they do so on flexible hours.
The current legislation includes a right to ask for such hours, but makes no reference in particular to women returning from maternity leave.
The Government is touting the reforms as a means to help families balance home and worklife, with Prime Minister Julia Gillard describing the changes as an extension of the existing standards.
"Modern families can find it very difficult to balance the demands of work and the demands of caring for kids and sometimes the demands of caring for older relatives too," Ms Gillard said.
"We want to make sure that our workplace relations system is helping take some of the burden off modern families.
"One of the ways we will do that is by extending the right to request flexible and part-time work to mums who are returning from maternity leave and indeed for dads who are returning from caring for children too.
"What that means is when people are trying to make the transition back to work, they will be able to request flexible and part-time work and their employer will have to respond to that request," Ms Gillard said.
And therein lies the kicker - employees can request flexible or part-time hours, their employer will have to respond, but employers can reject such requests based on reasonable business grounds.
In other words, if it doesn't suit the boss, forget about it.
Thankfully, most employers recognise the value of their staff, and will strive to keep the good ones happy.
Ms Gillard said about 80% of right to requests were resolved satisfactorily, and that the proposed changes would extend similar rights to more workers in different circumstances.
"What we wanted to do with the right to request was to change behaviour," she said.
"When I was workplace relations minister I looked at other workplace relations systems around the world that do have rights to request and the fact that you formalise the right gives employees comfort that if they step forward, then that's okay, that they can ask, and if you formalise the right, it also means that employers actually start thinking through, is this possible, can we make it work?"
The proposal has been attacked by the Opposition and the Greens, describing it as little more than an election stunt and a distraction from policy failures.