Letters

This week’s letters

Are we really doing our bit for the
environment?

The actions of British Geological Survey (BGS) and others on environmental
sustainability are to be applauded (21 September), although, in at least one instance,
they illuminate the potential for confusion and the complications that can
surround this issue.

A milk float will undoubtedly provide quiet and fumeless transport around a
work site, and using a second-hand vehicle makes an important contribution to
recycling (including the prevention of the early release of lead and acid into
the environment).

However, unless the electricity is generated from hydroelectric, nuclear or
wind turbine plants it will merely transfer pollutants to the power station. In
fact, it is a lot worse. It will generate more CO2 and NO emissions per mile
compared to a conventionally engined vehicle, as 65
per cent or more of the energy value of the fuel will have been wasted by
converting it to electricity (which is why natural gas heating is cheaper than
electricity).

Some experts believe that the much touted solar panels are only just
reaching a point where in the UK climate they produce more electricity over
their lifetime than is expended in their manufacture (mainly because of the
large amounts of electricity required to purify the silicates used in them).
When the additional carbon-based energy used in maintaining thermal plants on
standby to kick in during periods of cloud cover is factored in, each kilowatt
of supposedly "green" power they produce has probably contributed
more greenhouse emissions to the atmosphere than a thermally produced one.

If organisations want to become environmentally sustainable they must be
clear about the total impact their actions will have on the global environment
and not just consider their worksites. I have no doubt that BGS is aware of
these issues and has ensured that the energy supply
for its vehicle is from an appropriate source. But it is a point that should be
made to others seeking to emulate the company.

David Kreikmeier-Watson

Senior HR consultant, The Corporation of London,
Personnel & Management Services

Encourage over 50s to stay at work

Liberal Democrats leader Charles Kennedy has claimed that the retirement of
the "baby boomer" generation ought to be treated as an
"opportunity" and not as a "demographic timebomb".

As Kennedy rightly noted, the management of retirement itself is set for a
change. "Retirement should be seen as a process, rather than a single
irreversible event," he says.

However, he went on to say: "We need to change the rules so that people
can carry on working part-time and still receive a pension from their company.
This will allow people to gradually wind down their work with the comfort of
some of the pension they have earned."

I applaud Kennedy’s commitment to the continuation of people’s working
lives, but instead of putting workers out to grass gradually rather than in one
fell swoop, what is needed is a shift in employers’ attitudes towards older employees.

The pigeonholing of employees both young and old will exacerbate the skills
crisis as the over-50s begin to outnumber the under-30s. What we have is an
ageist "glass-ceiling" – and one that needs to be broken through.

Employers need to wake up to the fact that older staff can, in this
health-conscious age, be just as dynamic as younger staff. This is the
generation that drove business forward during the technological revolution.
These employees are not afraid of a challenge and have experience on their
side. Many want to continue to develop their careers and remain in high-level
positions – not embrace their bus pass and slippers. Why should we waste their
willing, experience and expertise?

Far from a demographic timebomb, the change in
dynamics within the workforce offers employers an opportunity – and it is the
HR professional’s job to ensure that this opportunity is not wasted.

Tim Bradley

Managing director, Pecaso
UK

Baby faces on the board of directors?

It is comforting to know how important the directors featured on your front
page considered the over-55s to be when commenting on your survey into older
workers, conducted by BMRB (News, 14 September).

However, judging by their photographs, it looks unlikely that any of the
people you quoted – clearly senior in their organisations – hold the valuable
experience that comes with being 55-plus (or maybe they’ve just got good skin)!

Chaz Williams (still a tad under
55)

Consultant, KLC Advisory Services

Benefits do not apply to everyone

I am writing following Patricia Hewitt’s suggestion that a future Labour
Government will further extend maternity and paternity benefits and extend
flexible working rights to carers.

These proposals are fantastic news for parents-to-be, but not for those who
run a business around employees who can take long periods of time off at the
drop of a hat.

Many City companies try to accommodate the needs of employees who have
caring responsibilities, whether for a child or a relative.

However, enshrining this in legislation and extending the scope of the
benefits places significant additional costs on companies. On top of that,
those employees who do not qualify for these benefits and who have to cover for
their colleagues’ absence may resent the extra burden.

While such initiatives are welcome in theory, the way they are implemented
needs to be considered carefully so that a benefit for one employee is not
granted at the expense of another.

Ken Brotherston

Chairman, Morgan McKinley

Tribunal system is unfair to companies

A thorough review of the tribunal system to remove its clear bias towards
employees is long overdue. Employers are constantly being blackmailed by
employees who bring meritless tribunal cases against
them.

Recently, a temporary worker brought a tribunal claim for unfair dismissal
and sex discrimination against both our recruitment business and our client.

Although the tribunal dismissed the case as without merit, it would not
award our costs, even though the worker later failed to produce evidence for an
additional claim under the Public Interest Disclosure Act. She subsequently
dropped this claim, having made it known that she would never have carried on
with the claim if we had paid up at the outset.

So although we had acted blamelessly, we spent £2,500 defending ourselves.

Opportunistic ex-employees know that the system is biased in their favour,
so we are faced with a dilemma in future. Do we give way and pay off such
individuals, or stick to our principles and defend our business against legitimised
blackmail?

Janet Crawford

Executive chairwoman, Angel Human
Resources

Rules needed to protect information

The article by Stefan Martin ‘Share and share alike?’
(24 August) touched on the issue of information disclosure and the forthcoming
requirements of the new information and consultation regulations.

This issue has been a central concern of many employers in connection with
European Works Councils. The EWC directives confidentiality rules mirror those
applicable in the new regulations.

One key issue is that the UK
listing rules and the New York
stock ex-change were drafted with a view to stopping financial gain from
disclosure. That is not the problem. Neither is it enough to only exclude
price-sensitive information. Many European Works Councils have experienced that
the disclosure of even ordinary information can provide strategically important
data to a competitor.

Disclosure can happen by error rather than intention, particularly in
training exercises organised with employee representatives from different
companies in the same sector. We need to find effective rules to protect both
companies and advisors.

Peter Reid

Principal, Peter Reid Consulting

Government should fund union training

I write following your article on the training of union representatives and
whether employers should pay some of the cost of that training (News, 7
September).

There has been a reduction in funding to the Health & Safety Executive
and there are insufficient enforcement officers to ensure illegal and unsafe
working practices among employers are being eliminated and reduced.

The best-trained employees in a workplace are stewards and safety reps
because of the Trades Union Congress education programme. These individuals
contribute to highlighting bad working practices and ensuring new safety
standards are introduced, implemented and monitored.

In effect, they are carrying out the implementation aspect of the
Government’s enforcing officers. This confirms that to continue and improve the
training and learning needs among the trade union movement, it is vital that
the Government recognises the benefits of using activists’ skills. Therefore,
it should financially contribute to ensure more people in all industries are
fully trained. This would allow ground activists to be more involved and for
HSE officers to concentrate on other issues.

However, as well as financial help, the Government needs to introduce
legislation to enhance union activists’ powers to pursue illegal and
unscrupulous employers. This would help redirect enforcing agencies’ resources
into other areas of priority, or prosecution for more serious offences.

Tracy Hill

Health and safety representative

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