Editor’s Comment: 2004 the HR Year in Review

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Annie Ward

By Annie Hayes, HRZone Editor

The year has been dominated by a number of key issues, notably the first national civil-service strike for more than a decade, record employment, the unveiling of our pensions crisis and the declaration by the CIPD President to HRZone that the HR function needs to discard its ‘woolly and cuddly image’; Editor’s Comment looks at 2004 – the HR year in review.

Three-steps to dismissal
The Employment Act 2002 (Dispute Resolution) Regulations 2004 came into effect on 1 October 2004, introducing a new three-step procedure which has to be followed in the event of a dismissal, disciplinary action or grievance in the workplace:

  • Step one: put it in writing
  • Step two: meet and discuss
  • Step three: appeal

The rules left some smaller employers in the dark as to their obligations and others open to costs. Employers that fail to follow the procedures, instigate a dismissal that becomes automatically unfair, making any additional compensation eligible to be increased by up to 50%.”

Industrial unrest
On 5 November hundreds of thousands of civil servants across the UK stayed away from work in an industrial stoppage organised in protest against government plans to axe 100,000 civil and public service jobs. The strike was declared a success by the unions and was said to be the biggest in over a decade, involving 160 government departments and agencies.

The unrest began back in February when the Gershon review was leaked, outlining the plans.

£57bn pension crisis unveiled
Chairman of the Pensions Commission, Adair Turner became a household name in October when he unveiled his report that revealed a pensions gap of £57 billion a year. The report showed that demographics had got the better of our pensions’ provisions and that the population was facing three possible routes: save more, raise taxes or work longer. The debate goes on.

Smoking bans clean up workplaces
In May, Ireland became the first EU member state to ban smoking in the workplace. By November, Health Secretary John Reid announced that Britain was climbing aboard the smoking band-wagon.

Smokers will be prevented from lighting up in places that serve food including cafes, restaurants and most pubs but only if adequate ventilation is in place to protect bar staff. The new legislation will stop short of an all out blanket ban.

Maternity leave boost
December’s Pre-Budget report saw Brown dangle the voting carrot for working parents. Among the raft of generous sweeteners were:

* extended paid maternity leave transferable between mums and dads from six to nine months
* free nursery education for three and four year olds increased to 15 hours from April 2007
* £50 worth of tax-free childcare vouchers per week for staff
* extended school opening hours to assist with pre and post-school childcare
* £40 a week bonus for lone parents who return to work

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) gave a cautionary reaction, warning that the plan to transfer leave between mums and dads could prove a logistical headache for employers.

Disability Discrimination Act revamp
On 1 October the Disability Discrimination Act was extended to cover businesses with fewer than 15 staff. Businesses of all sizes are now obliged to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to their premises as well as their equipment, recruitment and dismissal procedures.

Failure to comply with the Act put the fear into HR who faced a growth in ET1 forms.

Working Time opt-out debated
In January the European Commission launched a review of the working time Directive, including the proposal to remove the opt-out of the 48-hour working week. By September tabled reforms had received a battering by the TUC and CBI, who promised to fight ‘tooth and nail’ against the proposals.

Absence and presenteeism take on new meanings
2004 witnessed leading organisations, the Royal Mail and British Airways introduce attendance bonus schemes in an attempt to tackle problematic absence levels. Critics hailed the schemes as a nonsense saying that rewarding staff to turn up to work was unethical.

While a rise in ‘presenteeism’ caused employers who docked workers' wages for not turning upto work to consider the longer-term impact.

A ten year study of 10,000 Whitehall workers conducted by University College London revealed that staff who struggle into work could be putting their health at risk.

Employment reaches new high
Jobless numbers slide to an all time low as the labour market continues to stabilize. The Labour party herald the news as a success of government but the CIPD warn that the rosy figures mar the record number of economically ‘inactive’ people.

CIPD President tells HR to shake off its ‘woolly and cuddly’ image
In an exclusive interview with HR Zone the new CIPD President, the former cabinet secretary and ex-head of the Home Civil Service, Lord Wilson of Dinton talks openly about the ongoing challenges for the HR function and explains why it must shake off its ‘woolly and cuddly’ image.

NHS pay deal
In December Agenda for Change brought in tabled reforms to NHS workers’ pay. The NHS minimum wage was lifted to £5.69 per hour while the new starting salary for newly-registered nurses increased from £17,060 to £18,114 – on a par with a newly-qualified teacher, while senior ‘super’ nurses could earn for the first time more than £80,000 a year.

Health Minister, John Hutton said the reforms marked an historic occasion in the history of the NHS.

We hope you agree with this line up of 2004 HR highlights. Please add your comments and tell us what the year brought for you. In the meantime the HRZone team wishes you Season’s Greetings and looks forward to reporting on the HR news agenda in 2005.

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