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A week in HR: It’s not all bad news

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News round-upChristiana Tollast reports on plans to scrap new laws that would increase business costs; London’s plans to ‘up skill’ workers in readiness for emergence out of the downturn; and how the apprenticeship is proving to be one answer to the UK business skills shortage.


As reported in The Times this week, there are plans to scrap new laws that would increase costs for businesses, including enhanced maternity leave and tougher equality legislation.

In response to the downturn, business secretary Lord Mandelson and the chancellor have argued for a suspension of any measures that would add to the current financial pressure on businesses.

This drastic u-turn in proposed government legislation came about after a meeting of the Economic Development ministerial committee last week, where a confidential memo to ministers asked that they “advise on a moratorium on legislation and legislative announcements made but not yet implemented that will entail additional costs for businesses”.

Adam Fuge, employment partner at Matthew Arnold & Baldwin, spoke exclusively to HRZone.co.uk: “If this moratorium is implemented then most employers will probably welcome this in the current climate, though it does create continuing uncertainty over when any changes that are shelved will eventually come into force.”

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More positive news came this week with the new CIPD skills survey, launched to coincide with Apprenticeship Week, which reported that employers are backing government efforts to increase the number of apprentices and support, in principle, the government’s new 14-19 education diplomas.
Although the survey reported that key reforms aimed at simplifying the apprenticeship system are yet to be fully grasped or utilised by employers, over 78% of respondents back the government in introducing new targets. A similar number also agree that there are clear business benefits in employing apprentices.

Dr John McGurk, learning, training and development adviser, CIPD said: “Apprenticeships are rapidly re-establishing themselves as part of the skills solution but employers will only continue to engage with these valued training opportunities if they can see the business benefits.”

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Meanwhile Boris Johnson announced this week that the Greater London Authority (GLA) group is to provide more than 3,000 apprenticeships over the next three years in a bid to create a better skilled workforce and boost London’s economy.

Training opportunities including work placements are to be offered ranging from customer services to electrical engineering. Transport for London and its contractors will be recruiting around 650 adult and 115 young apprentices over the next year and the Metropolitan Police Service and Metropolitan Police Authority are advancing plans to provide over 150 apprenticeships.

Boris Johnson said: “At the GLA, we are pushing forward by expanding current programmes and creating new ones and I urge employers from across London’s sectors to follow our lead.”

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Tthere is positive advice for the UK’s worried workers this week, from Dr Harry Freedman of Career Energy, as their survey revealed 80% of workers do not feel secure in their jobs, whilst 50% admit job insecurity is their biggest worry for 2009.

Although the research found that 61% of those surveyed who are currently out of work felt the job market was ‘not good’, with few jobs and lots of competition, Dr Harry Freedman, founder of Career Energy had this advice:

“If you fear for your job, or find yourself out of work, there is a lot you can do. A recession can be an opportunity, it is all about how you approach it.”

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But although our hearts go out to anyone who has lost their job through the downturn, perhaps we should also spare a thought for those ‘surviving’ employees left holding the fort, as the latest quarterly CIPD/KPMG survey reveals two-thirds of UK employers have either experienced an organisational budget cut in 2008 or are about to.

The figures highlighted increased pressure on those left behind, with 48% of employers surveyed saying individual staff workloads have increased as a result of the crunch, and 46% say employee stress levels have increased. In addition, 69% of organisations that have reduced business travel spend have reduced travel expenses, while 60% have reduced international travel.

Gerwyn Davies, public policy adviser at the CIPD, said: “While our greatest sympathy should be reserved for those who are losing their jobs during the recession, the effects on surviving employees should not be overlooked.”

Tim Payne, head of HR at KPMG, comments: “It’s no surprise that organisations are reining back on non-essential spending and scrutinising their policies carefully. What is important is that policy changes are made sensitively and in a way which preserves goodwill. Firms don’t want to alienate staff at a time when employee goodwill is a vital commodity.”

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And if businesses haven’t got enough to worry about, the up-coming change in law over the handling of workplace disciplinary procedures has raised concerns among HR professionals who feel it will add to stress-related staff absences.

Until now, witnesses could not be cross examined by the actual employee facing disciplinary action. The new ACAS Code of Practice, which comes into force in April, changes that – putting the accused and the witness face-to-face in hearings.

Helen Clarke, managing director of HR service provider Jaluch, warns: “We expect to see an increase in work-related stress and absence for those called to give evidence at a disciplinary hearing and for bosses who are managing a difficult employee with less support.”

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And finally, the BBC has reported that the government has proposed to sell off 30% of the Royal Mail, as ministers warn the organisation can’t survive in its current format.

The proposals come as Jane Newell, the chair of trustees of Royal Mail’s pension scheme warns that the Royal Mail’s pension fund deficit was likely to rise well in excess of its current £5.9bn, should the sale not happen.

However, 125 Labour MPs are opposing the sell off, over concerns of further redundancies and full privatisation. According to the BBC, the government has proposed it will also take over responsibility for the pension scheme as part of the proposed sell-off package.

It has been argued by the unions, who are staging mass protests, that the Royal Mail made a healthy profit of £255m in the last nine months of 2008 and can thrive in its current form.

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