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Verity Gough

Sift Media

Deputy Editor

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A week in HR: The return of the British seasonal worker and other tales

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NewsVerity Gough reports on a change in employment trends, BT’s mass job cull, low UK pay rises, and a freeze on the national minimum wage.




It appears that seasonal work is no longer the domain of immigrants, if a story in The Guardian is anything to go by. It has reported a change in job trends as more British workers apply for seasonal work in the UK countryside despite most only being offered national minimum wage. Recently, a vegetable supplier advertised for workers in East Kent and received 217 applications for 30 jobs and, interestingly, all but three of the candidates were British.

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It appears workers are indeed getting desperate. One employment agency decided to run an Easter egg-hunt competition offering jobs applications and vouchers to buy interview outfits to the lucky winners, but has since cancelled the hunt due to the negative press it attracted. The Tax Payers’ Alliance has come forward and criticised what it refers to as a ‘gimmick’ saying that job seekers need real help in order to beat the pending unemployment crisis.

Mark Wallace, campaign director for The Taxpayer’s Alliance, suggested that rather than games, job seekers need assistance in writing CVs, finding vacancies, applying properly and sticking with their search: “They might not be as exciting as Easter egg hunts but these are things which will really help people when they need it,” he said.

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On the redundancy front, this week saw BT announce yet more job cuts. An additional 10,000 jobs on top of the 10,000 already in place are set to go after writedowns of around £1.5bn. According to the report in The Telegraph the redundancies will be spread across the company’s 150,000-member global workforce but there is speculation that even more job cuts could be in the pipeline.

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Despite the recent employment law changes, it appears that Britain is already falling short when it comes to new flexible working practices. A survey of 1,078 employees by online recruiters Monster has found that only 22% of UK employees work for a business with a solid flexible working policy and a dismal 58% of workers say that their firm has no flexible working policy at all.

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Meanwhile, a further report by global management consultancy Hay Group has indicated that UK pay rises are amongst the lowest in the world in 2009, with the average pay rise just under 1.5%. Plus, over a third of organisations are reducing headcount and freezing wages.

The twice-yearly study, which spans HR and reward professionals in almost 2,000 private and public sector organisations across 88 countries, has revealed how the recession is hitting UK employers harder than when last conducted in November 2008, and highlights how the UK is more exposed to the impact of the global downturn.

Though the proportion of UK employers freezing pay (38%) is broadly on a par with the rest of the world (36%), the scale of cutbacks on staffing levels is higher: 36% compared to 27% globally.

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The Daily Mail also reports that the Prime Minister is considering freezing the national minimum wage to help bolster the flagging economy.

The report claims that the freeze is being ‘seriously considered’ by the Low Pay Commission, which makes recommendations to government on the matter. However a backlash from Unions is expected.

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A new CIPD report calling for a new management style to give employees a motivating boost is also out this week. The study, Coaching at the sharp end, is the first of its kind to assess the implications of the devolution of coaching to line managers.

Commenting on the findings, Dr John McGurk, learning, training and development adviser at the CIPD said: “Coaching as a management style is just as appropriate for organisations facing the challenges of hostile economic conditions as it is for those enjoying business growth and development. This guidance will help HR professionals work with their line managers to diagnose the most effective way forward in implementing and embedding coaching so that it becomes part of ‘business as normal’.”

The report will be launched at the CIPD’s HRD conference on 21 April in London.

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In other news, it seems that sexual discrimination is alive and well in Britain following a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which revealed that women working in the city are still paid 60% less than men who are also receiving nearly 80% more in perks and bonuses than women.

Trevor Philips, head of the EHRC, said that the government should force more companies to reveal their pay policies.

William O’Neill, head of employment at Rowland’s solicitors, said that employees who feel they may have been discriminated need to follow the correct procedure: “In the first instance the employee should put her concerns in writing, as a formal grievance procedure to her employers, and then consult an employment law solicitor to consider bringing a claim for compensation through a tribunal.

“The employee must be able to show that she is being paid less than her comparator, who must be of the opposite sex and in the same employment. This includes predecessors but does not include successors.”

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Finally, in keeping with our theme of wellness for April, it seems that Brits are still not getting a good night’s sleep thanks to fears over jobs and money worries, and this is impacting on their productivity at work.

According to a sleep study by Travelodge, Brits are collectively ‘sleep sliding’ the distance of London to New York and back every night with 44% of UK adults suffering sleep deprivation every night due to constantly adjusting their sleeping position. The findings revealed that the combined distance travelled by these disturbed sleepers totals 7,436 miles every night.

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Verity Gough

Deputy Editor

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