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Annie Hayes

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A week in HR: October bank holiday campaign takes hold

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HR weekThe Trades Union Congress has renewed calls for an October bank holiday – a move that might be welcomed by the credit-crunch weary. Elsewhere, IRS has revealed who is doing well in the pay stakes, and Aon Consulting highlights further pension pot misery. Annie Hayes reports.


Monsters, vampires, witches and werewolves are not the source of workers’ safety concerns, according to the Trades Union Congress (TUC). Its report, released in the run up to Halloween, shows that stress or overwork, injuries and illnesses, caused by the poor use of display screen equipment and repetitive strain injuries top the list of workers’ safety concerns.

Stress was cited as the biggest concern in 10 of the 14 sectors covered by the survey and is most common in the public sector and in large workplaces. Injuries and illnesses resulting from poor use of display screen equipment has risen from fourth in 2006 to become the second-most common concern. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber warned that with anxiety over jobs looming, stress is likely to increase.

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In a separate release, the TUC has made further calls for the creation of an October bank holiday. The union body says it would bridge the four-month gap between the August and Christmas bank holidays and give parents a day off during half-term. The earliest date the TUC propose ‘Community Day’ could come into effect would be October 2010, by which time most commentators expect the economy to be on the road to recovery, it says.

In related news, a survey of 4,255 people by employment law firm Peninsula found that 92% of employees think that there should be at least one new bank holiday, and 79% believe it should fall in October. So, employees want more time off – no surprises there – but HRZone.co.uk would like to know who are the nearly one in 10 who don’t?

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Workers in the recruitment sector might just be able to fund an extra holiday. According to the annual Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Croner Reward pay survey, employees with senior level recruitment jobs were paid 11% more than others at that level. Of other HR professionals, those in the manufacturing sector have also seen the most positive pay increases, with salaries 3.5% above the all sector average of £30,720.

At the end of last month it was reported that, in general, HR employees were still receiving bonuses, many of them higher than those in 2007.

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In other pay news, number crunchers IRS report a silver lining for pay awards in the new year. According to its findings, employers are predicting pay awards for 2009 to be at a similar level to those of 2008, despite reports of the UK economy entering a recession. The research (subscription required), reveals that private sector organisations are predicting pay rises in the region of 3.5% in 2009. In addition, eight in 10 employees can expect a pay rise next year that matches or exceeds that received this year.

However, this level of optimism is not spread evenly across the economy. Manufacturing companies are ahead of the pack, comfortably predicting pay rises of 4% in the year ahead. In the services sector, so far more widely hit by the economic downturn, employers forecast 2009 pay rises as being closer to 3%. According to the Daily Telegraph, overall government figures have been pointing to a slowdown in pay movements. Average earnings in the three months to August were growing at an annual rate of 3.4%, including bonuses, down 0.5% on the previous three-monthly period.

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In further good news, recruitment and retention specialists Kenexa reveals that as many as two-thirds of British workers still have confidence in their organisations. More than three out of five British employees feel confident that they are not at risk of being laid off, however, only half believe there is a promising future for them at their current organisation. Last week HRZone.co.uk reported that more than half of workers plan to ride out the downturn by sticking with their current employer. This is the case even though 78% expect the impending recession to last up to two years.

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Finding the right staff for new posts is proving a little more problematic. Data released by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) shows that many senior posts will remain unfilled because of a mismatch between employer recruitment and employee job-search tactics. The findings, which follow a major research programme involving the Institute for Employment Studies and Department for Work & Pensions (DWP), show that two-thirds of the UK’s managers admit they regularly browse relevant job adverts, with 56% also reporting that they are actively seeking a more senior position.

However, with 80% of organisations revealing that they are struggling to recruit staff with the right skills, it is worrying to note that many employers appear to be looking in the wrong place, says the CMI. Although 72% of managers claim they are most likely to use ‘online job searches’ and 76% suggest they focus specifically on ‘online job adverts’, just 37% say they found their current role via the internet.

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Some senior managers who had previously been dreaming of a happy retirement have had their dreams shattered. According to a report by The Guardian, falling share prices have wiped billions of pounds off the value of workers’ pensions and could force some employees to delay retirement. The study, by employee benefits firm Aon Consulting, showed the value of defined contribution schemes offered by UK companies had dropped by nearly a third in the 12 months since last October, from £522bn to around £395bn. Aon said employees and employers had paid £6.7bn into the schemes over the past year, but had lost around £157bn as shares plummeted around the world. Although workers in final salary schemes will not be immediately hit by the stock market falls, pensions experts have warned that, in the long term, poor share performance could lead to the closure of many more schemes as employers struggle to find money to make up deficits.

The Daily Express recently became the latest employer to scrap its final salary scheme, saying it had become too costly to maintain.

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In further pay news, the DWP has announced that people who cannot work due to disability or poor health will be able to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). The move marks the end of incapacity benefit for new claimants and addresses the government’s aim of getting one million people off incapacity benefit by 2015. The DWP also says that although some forms to fill in will alter, ESA will not cause major changes to the way healthcare professionals deal with their patients or their paperwork.

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In training news, the government has also pledged £350m to shore up SMEs for the turbulent times ahead. The announcement was welcomed by the CIPD and the CBI. According to sister site Trainingzone.co.uk, the skills secretary didn’t stop there. In a speech to the CBI on Friday, John Denham announced £98 million of government money would be targeted at industries vital for the future prosperity of the UK – including biotech, aerospace, pharmaceuticals, nuclear, energy conservation and hospitality sectors. He said that the government wants to ensure that British workers do not see jobs go abroad, because overseas workers have higher skills, or that migrants are needed simply because local employees lack skills.

The Government funding comes hot on the heels of an open letter published in national newspapers by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, calling for employers to commit to training despite the deteriorating economy. The letter, signed by industry leaders – including the chairman of BT, the general secretary of the TUC and the CBI director general – said: “Investing now in building new skills will put us in the strongest position as the economy recovers.”

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