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News in Brief: The week in HR – Bird Flu puts flight to absence panic

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Briefcase
Read on to find out more about the Bird Flu business panic, pension deficit rises again, why graduate recruitment is rosy and news on national stereotypes being played out in European boardrooms.



W/C 9/1/06
Bird Flu puts flight to absence panic
The virus threatens to cause up to half of all workers to fall ill or be absent from work. But despite the warnings bosses continue to turn their backs on the possibility of a financial fallout if the Bird Flu pandemic hits.

These are the findings of business information adviser, Croner who suggest the following guidelines for managing the problem:

  • Incorporate a contingency plan into overall business strategy

  • Inform and consult employees to make them aware a plan exists and what to do if the pandemic reaches the UK

  • Identify and keep records of skills and capabilities of the entire workforce so that employees may be redeployed into other roles if necessary

  • Evaluate real and perceived risks by monitoring the spread of bird flu

  • Look at alternative methods of communication, including web casting and video conferencing

  • Reconsider policies on flexible working and home working

Richard Smith, employment services director at Croner said: “Businesses should evaluate all real and perceived risks to their organisation. While it may be more front of mind to prepare for other threats such as terrorism, a pandemic could cause even greater disruption.”

Croner is advising employers to put a plan in place with contribution from HR, Health & Safety, and senior management personnel.

Pension deficit rises again
The pension deficit in the FTSE 350 rose by almost a quarter in 2005 to £93 billion – despite strong equity market growth, according to Mercer Human Resource Consulting.

The news comes just weeks after Rentokil Initial, Arcadia and Co-operative Group announced they were either abandoning final salary schemes or taking measures to reduce the costs.

It had been thought that strongly performing markets would be enough to wipe out the pension scheme deficits but now it appears that liabilities are growing so quickly, it will be difficult to offset them.

The problem is that although employers have been able to close final salary schemes to new employees, their ability to cut off existing employees from future benefit accruals is something that remains untested in the courts. It is possible that any court decision will be based on an individual pensions trust’s deeds – meaning there will be no overriding principle to follow.

There is a further problem for employers in heavily unionised industries – union leaders have already warned they will strongly resist moves to reduce pension benefits.

The GMB is already examining Rentokil employees’ contracts to see if industrial action can be taken and has announced, together with Amicus and T&G, that it will be consulting employees at the Co-operative Group on possible industrial action.

Graduate recruitment is rosy
Graduate recruitment is on the up this year, with a predicted rise in the number of jobs and salaries offered to those leaving university.

Vacancies are expected to rise by around 11% above last year, with starting salaries up by 3% to £23,000 according to the Graduate Market report.

The report, which looks at the top 100 firms to work for, found that more than half of leading employers expect to recruit more graduates in 2006 than last year.

Over-all, graduate vacancies have risen by 22% since 2004 and starting salaries by 5.8% – above the rate of inflation – over the same period.

Investment banks, law firms and consulting firms will offer the most generous starting salaries.

Accountancy and professional services make up the fastest-growing sector as well as the largest recruiter of graduates, with vacancies expected to rise by 28.8% from last year.

Public sector jobs will make up 16% of the total graduate sector, but vacancies in the sector are not set to rise this year.

The media, oil and energy companies and law firms also plan to recruit more graduates in 2006.

Lloyds TSB cuts time to e-learning
Lloyds TSB has managed to plan, develop, test and implement an hour-long e-learning course in less than three weeks.

The bank’s fastest-ever implementation of e-learning was made possible by a Lloyds TSB-specific e-learning template, which cut the six weeks of testing that the bank usually undertakes when it adds learning content to its intranet.

Val Laycock, Senior HR Project Manager at Lloyds TSB, said: “We have very strict technical standards for putting content on our intranet and everything has to be thoroughly tested. This course is built on an innovative template, so once the template was signed off, we were able to simplify the testing and this made the whole development process much quicker and easier.”

The e-learning course was created to help 30 specialists in the bank’s Wholesale and International Banking business learn the basic principles of how to calculate interest and pass charges.

For more on this story see: TrainingZONE

New Director of learning at LSC
The Learning and Skills Council has announced the appointment of Melanie Hunt as its new national director of learning.

The role sees Hunt responsible for adult and young people’s learning, quality assurance and assessment, learner support, equality and diversity and policy innovation and development.

Chief executive of the LSC, Mark Haysom said: “I am delighted that Melanie has been appointed to this role. She has been a valuable member of the LSC since its inception in 2001. She will be instrumental in driving forward the LSC’s 14–19 agenda and is committed to providing a range of high quality learning opportunities for everyone.”

Hunt, who was previously director of young people’s learning at the LSC, said that she would be “relentless” in the pursuit of the highest quality learning provision.

For more on this story see: TrainingZONE

IT Graduates feel let down by degrees
Almost half of new IT graduates believe that their degree course has failed to provide them with relevant skills, a new survey has found.

The research also found that 41% felt that in hindsight, they would have skipped university and gone straight into work.

As an alternative to degree-based IT training, 53% of respondents said that they would have preferred to complete vocational or on-the-job training.

The survey, by international IT services company FDM, also reveals that IT graduates are still heavily favouring work in the private sector, with only 10% of those surveyed committed to working in the public sector.

However, the survey also revealed a significant shift in the IT gender divide with only 2% suggesting that their gender negatively impacted on them finding work. In addition, only 6% of those surveyed felt that age was an issue in IT recruitment.

For more on this story see: TrainingZONE

Minimum wage prosecutions spread festive cheer
The minimum wage rates for different groups of workers are:
# £5.05 for workers aged 22 and over. This was raised on 1 October 2005
# £4.25 for 18 – 21 year olds. This was also raised on 1 October 2005
# £3.00 for 16 – 17 year olds.

The DTI have released national minimum wage enforcement statistics for the seven months to 31 October 2005.

HM Revenue & Customs enforcement teams investigated 2,409 cases, recovering more than £1.7 million underpayment from companies, and benefiting more than 12,100 workers.

The highest percentage of successful enforcements were in the South East and East Midlands. Many of these were made as a result of complaints to the DTI by the workers themselves. The growing number of cases across a whole range of businesses and employments has meant that HMRC are now in possession of very useful statistics which will enable them to enforce the regulations in specific areas and occupations.

For more on this story see: AccountingWEB

National stereotypes played out in boardrooms
Research conducted by global HR consultancy, DDI shows that national stereotypes are alive and well and can be found in boardrooms across Europe.

Key findings include:

  • Autocracy is highly prized by French leaders who don’t like to have their views challenged

  • Fear of failure is a major concern for German leaders who exhibit the strongest social conscience

  • Developing teams is a key driver for our British leaders

The report labels captains of industry in the UK, France and Germany respectively as meritocrats, autocrats and democrats.

Managing director Steve Newhall commented: “Education and tradition play their part in shaping fundamental distinctions which cross-border businesses must understand and accommodate if they are to succeed in developing a truly global workforce.”

RNID launches telephone hearing test
The leading charity for the deaf and hard of hearing has launched a phone-based hearing test.

The RNID is targeting an estimated four million people in the UK who could benefit from wearing a hearing aid, but currently do nothing about it with its Break the sound barrier campaign, run jointly with the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

General secretary of the TUC Brendan Barber said that many workers feared that admitting to being hard of hearing could result in their employers treating them less favourably. “But good bosses know that it makes sense to do all they can to help employees be as productive as possible at work and so most will I’m sure be keen for their staff to take RNID’s hearing check,” he added.

According to the RNID, more than 40% of the over 50s have some level of hearing loss.

For more on this story see: TrainingZONE

Guide to employee references and Data Protection
A new guide to how the Data Protection Act applies to employee references is available from the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The online guide includes good practice recommendations to help employers decide when employment references should and should not be released.

It states that in most cases individuals have a right to a copy of information held about them and warns that employers who refuse to provide it may be in breach of the Act. However, if there is confidential information in a reference then an exemption may apply.

Phil Jones, assistant commissioner, said: “The Information Commissioner’s Office has received a number of enquiries from employers and employees in relation to references.

“I hope this guide will provide answers to some of these questions and clarify when employment references should be released in order to comply with the Data Protection Act.”


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