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Annie Hayes



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Editor’s Comment: Glass half empty?


Annie Ward
Clean sheets, fresh starts, renewed enthusiasm – this is the stuff new years are supposed to be made of so why is the glass seemingly half empty?

We’re supposed to re-join the world of work with a spring in our step akin to the enthusiasm enjoyed by the likes of Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music. So why is it that it’s so hard to embrace detox and the to do list has been carefully filed in the executive bin?

One theory is that we’re still too bleary eyed from the late nights and deadlines endured from the previous year. According to the Trades Union Congress workers put in an extra day a week for free last year, working unpaid overtime.

Leaving little room for the 10k required on the treadmill or the ‘balance’ bit of the work/life conundrum to kick in.

Context, politics and history also plays its part. According to the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) it will take a further 200 years for women to gain full equality in the workplace. So frankly is it worth keeping to those new year’s resolutions of climbing the corporate ladder when prejudice and discrimination are against the females of the business world?

The battle of the sexes aside, there’s no escaping the fact that we’ll all have to work longer too. The Co-op, the retail and financial services group is the latest organisation to join the merry-throng of those slashing their final salary pension schemes and who can blame them? Age is defying all those who first compiled a pension based on a short but fun-packed retirement.

So not only do we have to work well into our wrinkled years but we also have to work for more of them – there’s little to celebrate yet.

But of course there’s always the nanny state to put a smile back on our faces. Thank goodness for jobs creation, high employment and a minimum wage to shake the Scrooge out of all those inclined to Dickensian-style management.

Some light at the end of the tunnel. Until we start to poke and prod at the claims. According to professional body, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) we should treat the latest labour market figures with caution. While the trend in the employment rate is flat, the rate of unemployment is starting to rise.

The number of people out of work in the UK rose by 72,000 in the three months to October to stand at 1.49 million.

John Philpott, Chief Economist at the CIPD said: “Given a tough year for the UK economy, the labour market has performed remarkably well in 2005, with well over 300,000 more people in work and pay pressures subsiding.

“But there is a sting in the tail. A combination of continued strong employment growth in the public sector – where measured productivity is low – and labour hoarding in private sector services is likely to reduce the annual rate of productivity growth to a trough not seen since the economy entered recession in the early 1990s. Despite the Chancellor’s much stated policy aim to raise UK productivity, 2005 looks like ground zero.”

There are two-sides of the story too when it comes to the National Minimum Wage (NMW). First introduced six years ago, those in the private sector say that year on year increases have increased costs and damaged competitiveness.

Ranjit Dhindsa, Head of Employment at the Midlands division of law firm Reed Smith says there is also a fear that wage differentials are being squeezed since the low paid are having regular increases. That the increases have far outstripped inflation and that the national minimum wage is now encroaching on sectors where it previously did not exist.

On top of this there also seems to be a new flavour of industrial unrest, a militancy akin to that felt in the 1980s. The Gate Gourmet dispute is a classic example of this type of labour unrest at its worst.

So it’s no wonder HR professionals are reaching for their next sugar hit when you also take into account the next raft of legislation that has to be grappled with, digested and spun out in 2006, particularly in the shape of new age discrimination laws.

Forgive me therefore for being a little bah humbugish about all that 2006 can bring but through these glasses the future looks a little less orange and more like a Narnia winter wonderland with a few wicked witches to contend with along the way.

Please post your comments at the foot of this article. Are you anticipating 2006 with glee? Do you agree with the Editor’s Comments? To have your say get posting now!

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Annie Hayes


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