A week in HR: Wrapping up the 'bad' news for staff

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HR weekThere's some great tips this week on how to craft that difficult Christmas message to staff – just don't post it on the web - 'cyber cynicism' is growing daily, according to a new survey. In other news, the TUC is banging the drum once again for a hike in the NMW. Annie Hayes reports.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) is calling on the Low Pay Commission to raise the national minimum wage (NMW) from £5.73 to more than £6.10 an hour as of October 2009. This equates to a 6.4% rise.

The TUC is also advising that the adult rate should be payable from 21 and not 22 as it is at present. Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary, said: "A low minimum wage would not only leave low paid workers - predominantly women - in poverty unnecessarily but would also leave them with less money to spend. This would leave consumer spending around £250 million below where it should be."

The TUC is making a further call for the current exemptions for apprentices aged under 19 or in the first year of their apprenticeship to be replaced with special NMW apprentice rates.

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And in other apprenticeship news, the government has announced a £10m boost aimed to address the skills gap. The new funding – through the Apprenticeship Expansion Programme - is available as a three-year trial to large businesses and groups of small and medium-sized businesses who have a track record of delivering high quality apprenticeship programmes. Businesses wanting to take part in the trial should express their interest and contact the Learning and Skills Council on 024 7682 3668 or visiting www.lsc.gov.uk. The deadline for expressions of interest is 16 January 2009.

New government commitments on procurement are expected to see upwards of 7,000 new apprenticeships in construction, while high street giants released plans for large-scale increases in the numbers of apprenticeships they offer. Sainsbury's, Tesco, Superdrug and Phones4U have committed to expand massively their numbers of apprentices, to ensure they have the right skills to stay ahead of the competition.

In 2006/07, 184,000 people started an apprenticeship. Completion rates have nearly trebled from 24% to 63% since 2001/2, the year completion records began.

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Training proposals were further outlined in the Queen's Speech. Business leaders gave a cautious welcome to plans to give employees the right to seek time off for training.

The CBI's deputy director general, John Cridland, said: "Employers invest £39bn every year in staff training and regularly discuss skills and training needs with their employees. The right to request training will build on this existing good practice, but the proposals must ensure employers only accept requests for business-relevant training, to help build a stronger skills base and a more competitive economy."

CIPD chief executive Jackie Orme also welcomed the proposal, but added: "It is important that we do not lose sight of the fact that training is a two-way street. It is of benefit to the learner, but must also contribute to meeting the business needs of the employer. If this test is not met, the employer must be able to decline requests for training."

Meanwhile, the Federation of Small Businesses was more cautious. It warned that: "Enshrining the right for employees to request time to undertake training... could cause administrative problems for small employers." For more details on the proposals see sister site www.trainingzone.co.uk.

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Some bosses may raise an eyebrow to time off for training if a latest report is anything to go by. According to a new survey, employers think workers are already 'wasting' enough time. 'Cyber cynicism' is taking hold across UK organisations, as employers fail to capitalise on the business benefits offered by technology, a new report from the Chartered Management Institute and Ordinance Survey claims. The research, among 1,000 managers under the age of 35, found that employers view internet activity as a 'massive timewaster'.

Nearly two-thirds (65%) monitor employee internet access and the same proportion block 'inappropriate' websites. This high level of policing comes against a backdrop of enthusiasm for internet-based applications amongst employees. Asked to highlight why they want to use the internet, the majority focused on its use 'for professional development' (72%). Over half claimed freedom to use the internet is 'useful for research' and 43% argued it helps 'for doing work'.

Jan Hutchinson, director of HR & corporate services at Ordnance Survey, said: "The low level adoption of new technology is in tandem with employers' belief that internet usage is a time waster. It's something that must be looked at because the longer this situation is allowed to remain unchallenged, the greater the likelihood UK employers will fall behind their international competitors."

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And in news from professional body The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) Dr John Philpott, its chief economist, has been appointed to director of a newly-created Public Policy Department. CIPD chief executive Jackie Orme said the appointment aimed to step up its public policy drive. "John Philpott is ideally placed to lead the team I've asked to focus on raising the profile and impact of workplace issues," she said. Philpott has been at the CIPD for eight years.

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Many workers will be hoping their pay packets stack up this Christmas but could be disappointed. Almost a quarter of companies surveyed by market research specialist Vanson Bourne said they regularly saw errors of over 10% of the total commission paid – with over a quarter spending over £50m on commission annually. Another 20% said they didn't know what errors occurred when paying out sales commissions. Over half of the sales directors admitted they regularly had to deal with queries and complaints from the sales force; whilst 63% said they worried 'occasionally' or 'frequently' about the accuracy of their sales commissions.

The survey, commissioned by OpenSymmetry, also found that only just over a quarter of respondents believed their compensation plans motivated and drove their sales force effectively. While almost a half said they were going to revise their policies for commission payments in the context of the economic slowdown, one in four respondents also said it took more than six months to create and implement a new compensation plan.

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Recruiters are feeling the impact of the credit crunch according to latest research from Bibby Financial Services. Almost three quarters of recruitment owners and managers (74%) believe the credit crunch has had a negative impact on the recruitment industry as a whole. And things don't look set for a brighter 2009. Almost two thirds (65%) cite the credit crunch as their biggest test in the coming year. Last week www.hrzone.co.uk reported predictions from experts that 'painful' wage cuts could be expected globally.

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If you're on countdown to Christmas, like the rest of us, there is a great HR blog posting on how to craft that Christmas message to staff even when the news looks a little bleak. And if the news is bad, don't miss HRZone.co.uk's expert commentary on whether it's best to impart ill-tidings of redundancy on Christmas Eve or wait until the new year. Plus, read Hilary Jeanes' top tips on how to deliver bad news to staff with empathy and sensitivity.

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