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Verity Gough

Sift Media

Deputy Editor

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A week in HR: Agency workers angry over job cuts at Mini

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HR weekEmployment woes continue with yet more job cuts announced, prompting fears that the recession is being used as an excuse to flout employment laws. On a more positive note, a productivity boost is on the cards with a shake-up of engineering construction skills. Verity Gough reports.


One of the biggest stories of the week has been the news that BMW is to cut 850 jobs at its Mini plant in Cowley, near Oxford. The cull, which is a direct result of falling sales, has angered trade unions and prompted fears that other firms may exploit the weaker employment legislation for temporary and agency workers.

According to a report on the BBC website, BMW announced that agency workers who undertook the weekend shift at the Mini factory would be made redundant from immdediate effect, while also identifying an additional 150 surplus workers at its other Mini plant in Swindon. The cuts are the second round made by BMW since last year, when 300 agency staff were told there would be no more work for them at the plant after the Christmas holiday.

Speaking exclusively to HRZone.co.uk, Jane Moorman, head of employment and partner at law firm Howard Kennedy, said that the treatment by BMW of its agency workers only serves to highlight their precarious position when contrasted with permanent staff.

“In certain situations a worker may be able to persuade an employment tribunal that the relationship between the agency worker and the client is in reality one of employment,” she said.

“However, if these agency workers cannot do this, they will have no right to make claims against BMW for either unfair dismissal compensation, redundancy pay or compensation for failing to consult. Given that some of the individuals have been employed at the Mini plant for four plus years, one would expect the trade union to explore this with the management to see whether they would be open, on a voluntary basis to compensate these workers or at least to give them greater notice.”

BMW are one in a long line of carmakers that have been making redundancies since the economic troubles began. Bentley and Honda announced extended Christmas shutdowns, with Aston Martin also making 600 redundancies while Jaguar Land Rover began a series of one-day shutdowns and production cuts late 2008 as well as planning 450 redundancies this year.

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With such talk of job cuts, you would have thought that businesses would be pulling their socks up when it comes to their recruitment practices, but a new survey from business leadership consultancy DDI has found that interviewers are simply not preparing adequately for the task, risk making legal blunders and are likely to spend longer on the commute to work than making a hiring decision.

DDI’s 2008 Global Interviewing Practices and Perceptions report found that 88% of interviewers think interviews are ‘important’ or ‘very important’ yet almost half make hiring decisions in 30 minutes or less.

Steve Newhall, vice president for Europe at DDI, said: “Job interviews are simply not being given the time and effort they deserve, and could be opening up businesses to costly legal problems. The average interviewer is far more confident about their abilities than the research shows they should be. In the current climate, organisations cannot afford to risk wasting valuable time and money in hiring the wrong person into critical roles.”

Other findings revealed that UK interviewers are among the least likely to use ‘gut instinct’, with only 32% saying they use this to make decisions.

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Similarly, a further report commissioned by BT Business and Nortel found that flexible working could be the answer to de-stressing staff, while making them more productive, yet less than one in 10 of the businesses surveyed trust their employees to work out of the office – despite the two fifths claiming that they could do a better job remotely.

Never has this been more apparent than over the last few weeks when the heavy snow kept many workers away from the office, yet despite dramatic changes in the UK workforce since the 1970s, the research points to outdated working practices – such as ‘presenteeism’, where it is thought that if employees are not at their desks, they are not working.

Barry Bonnett, president, Enterprise Solutions, EMEA, Nortel, said: “As lifestyles change, so must management’s attitudes towards employees. Unified communications can help managers, but ultimately change depends on trust.”

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News that religious discrimination is on the increase, despite the legislation inroads made in recent years, has prompted the Chartered Institute of Management (CIM) to publish a new guide aimed at helping employers tackle prejudice and misunderstanding.

According to CIM research, in the year to April 2008, 600 cases of workplace discrimination on religious grounds were tackled in the courts, up from 486 in the 12 months to April 2006. This isn’t helped by the fact that many employers are unsure about when faith days are celebrated and only one in three organisations have an explicit policy on religion and belief issues. The new guide, Religion and belief in the workplace, aims to inform employers about different religious beliefs.

“There have been several well publicised incidents recently which have bought issues of belief in the workplace to greater prominence,” said Jo Causon, director of marketing and corporate affairs at the Chartered Management Institute.

“Employers need to know the law and work within it, but they also need to manage relationships to ensure organisations and their employees can thrive. It is unacceptable to discriminate on the basis of religion, belief or any other form of discrimination. What matters is that employees have the skills and abilities to do the job. Employers need to harness the diversity within organisations for the benefit of the business.”

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The government has planned a review of productivity and skills in the engineering construction sector which will be headed up by former director of the general business and enterprise group, Mark Gibson.

The aim will be to assess the state of productivity in engineering construction in the UK and identify barriers to success, including a focus on skills.

In addition to making recommendations on ways to improve both skills and productivity in the UK engineering construction industry, the review team will identify specific factors influencing success for UK-based companies bidding for UK and foreign engineering construction contracts.

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And finally, new research has revealed that one in five UK workers would prefer to earn an instant promotion by having sex with their boss, rather than spend months working hard trying to impress them. The survey of over 1,000 employees, by Hirescores.com, also found that 26% claim they would kiss the boss for an automatic promotion, and 17% said they would consider it if the money was right.

“Working your way up the career ladder can seem like a daunting task but with ambition and dedication, impressing your manager can come naturally, without the need for underhand tactics,” said Lisette Howlett, managing director of HireScores.com.

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Verity Gough

Deputy Editor

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