2000: Looking back at a year of HR
It's not exactly been the quietest of years for the HR profession this year with a constant battle between legislators, trade unionists and employers' bodies about the level of regulation hitting the statute book.
Behind it all has come political and idealogical debate including that little matter of 'Europe'.
The following notes will highlight some of the issues over the past 12 months
As Millenium celebrations left hangovers a-plenty, January saw high expectations for the Greenwich Millennium Dome and the London Eye. Technical difficulties with the London Eye had to be sorted before it could move onto the job of carrying passengers.
After enjoying the spectacle with HM the Queen, Prime Minister Tony Blair's wife, QC Cherie Blair began the process of challenging new Parental Leave regulations on behalf of the TUC
Meanwhile strong reminders came through that the UK had a mountain to climb in terms of skills developments within its workforce. A report from the Skills Task Force indicated that Germany for example was miles ahead of the UK in skills available.
Michael Portillo announced that the National Minimum Wage would be retained by the Conservative party should they come to power. The announcement was seen as a major u-turn in Conservative policy, which hitherto, had opposed the NMW. The government later announced an increase in the basic NMW from £3.60 to £3.70
A survey from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) carried out in conjunction with the TUC and the CBI, highlighted the true cost of workplace bullying. Amongst the results of the survey, were figures that 47% of employees had witnessed bullying and 10% had been victims of workplace bullying.
Never long out of the news, 26th February saw the first anniversary of the Macpherson Report into the Stephen Lawrence murder. The report highlighted institututional racism in the Metropolitan Police force which had a knock-on effect into other public sector bodies, and other police forces.
The TUC highlighted that student labour in the UK was being exploited by companies who cared little about developing skills in the future workforce but were quite happy to take advantage of student needs to supplement low student income. Many companies paid only the minimum wage to students, whilst many demanded that students miss lessons to contribute to company needs.
In the European scene, the Europhile - Eurosceptic war continued with the Europhiles telling the Eurosceptics that they should stop trying to tell the nation that Britain was better Europe.
David Irwin became the first head of the Small Business Service, a DTI backed support service for small businesses. Trade unionists led by the TUC called on Mr Irwin to move away from the employer led activities of condemning 'red-tape' and 'over-regulation' and move onto tackling low levels of training and the lack of management skills.
The North-South divide continues to be a matter for press speculation, with a report highlighting that the south-east showed a 10% jobless rate compared to 17% in the north-east, whilst amongst males the respective figures were 14% in the south-east and 29% in the north-east, indicating that work was moving onto increased part-time contracts with a greater take-up by women.
In a submission to the Health and Safety Commission, the idea was mooted that worker safety reps with official advisory powers should be established.
Whilst on the subject of health and safety issues, the TUC highlighted that there are 1,200 driver deaths each year, that figure excludes vehicle passengers. A quarter of those deaths occur - 300 people - whilst the driver is on official company business as part of there normal work function.
A momentus month for our sister site TrainingZONE, when after three years at the sharp end of the editorial function, Tim Pickles welcomed new editor Stephanie Phillips as editor. Tim now takes a more strategic role in the development of TrainingZONE. (see also June 2000).
In the government sponsored Workplace Employee Relations Survey it was discovered that there are higher benefits in terms of financial performance and productivity in those companies which work toward improved employee relations and greater consultation. As a result the TUC set up their Partnership Institute
Pressure continued to mount for the rights of lesbian and gay workers to have greater protection under UK law, with employee groups calling for equalisation in the areas of pension rights and job related benefits.
Non-qualified claims assessors received criticism from government, employer and employee groups. Increasing high-profile claims led to an increasing accusation that the UK was entering a 'compensation culture', being led by unqualified, money-hungry 'compensation vultures'.
May saw the 30th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act (1970)being enacted. Some sources suggest that women's pay is still only 80% of what men receive.
Keeping to the line of legislation, May 3rd also saw the publication by the government of new part-time work regulations although implementation of the regulations remained to be phased in.
'Manufacturing' continued to be linked with 'crisis' with accusations that the UK manufacturing sector still suffered:
- an overvaluing of the £ against the Euro (30% being suggested)
- uncertainty about EU/EMU membership
- comparatively poor investment
- low productivity
- low R&D
- low innovation
- a worsening skills crisis
A call was made for more, and better, risk planning for manufacturing industries.
The CBI continued to attack an increasing culture of new employment rights and protection.
Within the pages of TrainingZONE, one page was devoted to HR news, starting the development of a new online community for HR practitioners. HR Zone was born, edited by new team member Jon Seaton
A comparison between the French and UK economies this month revealed the following:
- the French created more jobs over 10 year and 40 year periods
- Productivity is 20% higher in France
- Capital Incvestment runs at a higher level in France
- Activity levels in all community sectors in France are higher, especially with lone parents
- Britain has more 'permanent' jobs than France, whilst France has more 'full-time' jobs, (especially for women)
- In both France and the UK, women account for 45% of employed people
- British people work about 12% more hours each year compared to people in France, where few work over 46 hours a week.
- British workers are more likely to work more unsocial hours than French people.
- French GDP (standard of living index?) is about 10% higher than in the UK
As the holiday season starts to hit, the main elements of the Part-time Work Regulations became effective from July 1st. In essence it means that 'part-time workers must not be treated less favourably than their full-time equivalents, for similar work, including the areas of pay, leave, parental rights, pensions and access to training.'
The TUC called on employers and employees to watch out for the next workplace plague. Citing the number of case of firstly, repetitive strain injury and then work related stress, the TUC said that the next workplace plague must be just around the corner.
Under the Employment Relations Act everyone was given the right from September 4th to representation in official meetings with their employers. This means that employees now have the right to be accompanied at grievance proceedings with their employers.
Mo Mowlam, darling of New Labour, former Northern Ireland Secretary and now Cabinet Office Minister announced her intention to step down as an MP at the next election.
According to the TUC the gap between average director's pay and the average employee's pay was widening.
Perhaps this was reflected in the increasing price of petrol as first farmers and then hauliers caused increasing disruption to the road network by protest action which first slowed and then stopped traffic on British roads.
Stressed out Britain? Reports that Britain carried the highest risk of worker stress reached HR Zone with the following stats:
- there is an estimeted £23bn of unpaid overtime carried out in the UK each year, equivalent to £4410 per employee
- 4 million people regularly work in excess of 5 hours unpaid overtime weekly
- this years Part-Time Workers Regulations cost 5 pence per week per part-time worker to administer
- 85% of full-time workers say that they enjoy their work, but 50% of full-time workers also say that their home relationships suffered as a result of their work
Another time of celebration for HR Zone as the website went live at www.hrzone.co.uk. The launch coincided with the CIPD national conference at a crowded venue in Harrogate, where everyone except the CIPD seemed to think that access was difficult, parking was difficult, food was poor quality and expensive - Harrogate International Airport had no complaints however (!?)
On a more sombre note, Donald Dewar, First Minister of the Scottish Assembly, died after collapsing at home.
In the EU, the Social Affairs Council considered the draft Directive on Information and Consultation, an EU Directive which would give workers rights to be consulted on major changes (such as mergers, closures, etc) for all employers with over fifty staff.
In Luxembourg, the Employment Framework Directive was agreed preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or religion by 2003, and on the basis of disbility or age by 2006.
The situation with e-snooping became more difficult as the daily press highlighted the implementation of the Human Rights Act and the opinions of the Data Protection Registrar. The end result are a rash of rushed organisational policies on corporate use of e-mail and internet facilities, along with several higher profiled dismissal and grievance procedure cases.
The pre-budget report from Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, aimed to satisfy pensioners who had lobbied hard on increasing the basic state pension and also fuel protesters who had brought the country to a virtual standstill in September.
The opening of parliament through the Queen's speech gave a fair indication that the government expects to go to the country for the parliamentary elections in the spring of 2001.
As the British elections become greater news in the press, so the US elections eventually fade from site as the Bush-Gore race is finally settled in President-Elect Bush's favour, after what must be the longest and most fiercely contested presidentially election in US history.
In the UK, the DTI has commenced the Green Paper consultation process on work and parents.
A packed year in 2000 for HR practitioners may leave you out of breath for a while, but tell me your hopes and expectations for 2001 and not only will we put your views on HR Zone but also raise them in a special workshop.
E-mail to Jon Seaton
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