This week’s letters

Nothing surreal about wanting to work long hours by choice

I read with interest the article Hours not to reason why by Stephen Overell
(30 September).

One of the main issues often completely overlooked is the opinion of the
actual worker about working hours, especially those paid hourly, as is the
majority of my workforce.

I do not agree the UK has a "surreal obsession" with long hours.
Maybe we should enter the words "freedom of choice" into the

Under the terms of the opt-out clause that my organisation utilises, it is
made quite clear that overtime cannot be forced on anyone. It would be illegal
for me to act against anyone who at any one given time did not, or could not,
wish to do overtime.

Employers must give the health and safety aspect serious thought when
considering overtime/hours of work, especially if an individual’s work-life
balance is causing stress and ill-health due to working long hours.

There is the premise that a happy workforce is a motivated workforce is a
productive workforce. But what about the other angle – a worker who genuinely
is agreeable to the prospect of being given the choice to work longer hours?

If the opt-out clause is removed many of my people could not afford to live.
Having said this, I must indicate that some of my staff only work 40 hours per
week (through choice), and cannot be convinced to work any overtime. They are
not discriminated against, they do a good week’s work and are happy for others
to work the overtime.

How would I announce legislation to my staff in terms that do not sound
surreal? Imagine the conversation. Me: "I am very sorry to tell you, we
have plenty of work, but you are not allowed to work beyond 40 hours per
week." Staff reply: "But we want to, we want the overtime. Me:
"Sorry guys, Europe says no, you are being exploited so instead of me
paying you more to work longer I am going to employ more people to run two shifts,
my overheads will go up, the business will become untenable and we will have to
downsize or close down."

Yes, we need to protect staff against the unscrupulous employer who has
always flaunted the law and who will vent their wrath on staff if they are not
seen to work longer hours. But while the intention behind the Working Time
Directive is well intended, it is badly designed and conceived.

It has far-reaching implications for many businesses. One thing is for sure;
my business could not continue being competitive if individual choice was
removed against our wishes. Given the prospect of no additional money from
overtime, staff would seek other employment.

Mike Proudlove
Group general manager, Chase Signs

Too much tax is killing UK business

I write with reference to your article ‘Union predicts death of
manufacturing’ (News, 7 October). The TUC is doing the many world class
manufacturers and their employees a huge disservice in predicting ‘the death of
manufacturing’ and attacking employers for the current ‘investment strike’.

There is much common ground between the TUC and the Engineering Employers’
Federation (EEF) on the need to promote a step change in the level of
investment in skills and innovation in the UK if we are to close the
productivity gap with our competitors. However, the EEF’s extensive research
into the UK’s long-standing low levels of investment has shown a number of
structural causes. These include the far higher dependence of UK companies on
internal finance for investment as well as a less favourable tax environment
than that enjoyed by our competitors.

Given the pressure on profitability in the last few years, the extra costs
that have been placed on manufacturers – including higher national insurance,
the climate change levy, higher landfill tax – as well as the need to plug the
gap in many of their pension schemes, have only served to limit the internal
funds available for vitally needed investment. As a result, the Government must
not only avoid imposing any further costs on business, but seek to introduce
measures in the forthcoming pre-budget statement that will finally help to
address the root causes of this long-standing issue.

Martin Temple
Director general, EEF

Experience counts for nothing in HR

Ten years ago, with a good PA and secretarial background I was offered the
position of personnel manager in a prestigious educational establishment – one
of the first of such appointments in the private sector of education.

I had no formal HR qualifications and my ‘interview’ took an unconventional
two minutes. I attended a three-day employment law seminar and it was over to
me to produce policies, set up procedures and take overall responsibility for
400 staff.

I have been unable to study for formal qualifications due to the increasing
demands and long hours that my position requires, but I continue to keep
abreast of employment legislation and I use common sense. I am a well-respected
member of the senior management team and do not appear to suffer from lack of
formal qualifications.

I am at the latter end of my working career and do not envisage having to
look for another job, thankfully, as it would seem that 10 years’ worth of
experience in almost all aspects of HR would count for nothing.

Beverley Bailey
Personnel manager, Harrow School

Learning should not be left to chance

Why, after investing significant amounts of time and money on training and
staff development, do many companies leave the success of e-learning programmes
to chance?

To improve take-up and completion rates of courses, and help realise that
all important return on investment, organisations should practice internal

This doesn’t mean simply putting up a couple of posters when a new course is
launched, but thinking strategically about the marketing challenges and finding
effective tools to deal with them.

It takes more than just creating a blip of awareness to kick-start the
take-up of a new course.

HR professionals could look towards the expertise of their marketing
counterparts to find help in creating compelling material to support and promote
the benefits of any given programme.

Chris Robinson
Marketing manager, KnowledgePool

Doctors are sick of pointless sicknotes

I must congratulate Doctor and Personnel Today magazines on running a survey
on sick notes, hopefully with the intention of raising this issue within the
professions generally. I have very strong views on this matter. Medical
certificates are a complete waste of our professional time. They should be
removed from our terms and conditions forthwith.

My view is totally biased and frankly, I have absolutely no interest
whatsoever in how long patients should or should not be at work. Generally
speaking, I do not have an intimate knowledge of their work environment. And
besides, any attempt to assess whether they can do their work or not is
entirely subjective.

I feel that to put a diagnosis on the certificate is a breach of confidence.
For example, what doctor is going to write to a patient’s employer giving
gonorrhoea as the reason they cannot be at work? For that matter, can someone
with gonorrhoea be at work?

The area around stress, depression, anxiety and bereavement is totally
subjective and our only interest is in maintaining a relationship with our

Tony Blair’s attempts to reduce our paperwork and encourage doctors in
hospital to be responsible for certificates have proved totally pointless.

Patients still regularly turn up in surgery having been advised by the
outpatient doctor that they must see us to get a certificate.

Dr GC Moncrieff
GP, Bicester

Refusing reference is just not right

I once worked for a company which I chose to leave due because I viewed the
firm as practicing discrimination in the workplace.

Before my resignation was tendered, I ensured I would receive a reference
related to my performance (I confirmed this verbally with senior management).

After leaving I brought a tribunal action against the company, only to find
that they had ignored five requests for references from prospective employers.

I understand wholeheartedly that an employer has a duty of care when
providing references. But I fail to see for what reason an employer should be
allowed to refuse to give one. In my case the only reasonable assumption for
the lack of a reference was the tribunal action against the company.

As all my previous employment has been subject to references, this company’s
refusal to issue one effectively bars me from continuing employment.

Surely the right to refuse references should be removed to disallow
injustices such as this to occur, especially when an employee chooses to
utilise a right to tribunal?

Details supplied

Parental benefits are no walk in park

I have just picked up some old issues of Personnel Today to rediscover the
raging debate in your letters’ pages over women in the workplace, flexible
working and whether their colleagues without children are getting a raw deal.

I have been prompted to write and say that I still find it difficult to
believe the ‘anti-parent’ attitude displayed by some HR professionals.

There is an argument that flexible working and time off for dependants is
there for the parents’ enjoyment. That’s absurd. I hardly think that looking
after children constitutes a walk in the park. On the contrary, looking after
young children is exhausting and can be an ordeal.

Recent world events have resulted in focusing on the work-life balance.
People can now spend valuable ‘first-time’ occasions with their children. This
is wonderful for parents and children. Why miss out on these important times?

The Equal Pay Act is there to ensure that gender does not get in the way of
equality. If family benefits and financial enhancements are available, parents
need to claim them. Do you think the benefits are spent on new cars, extra
holidays or designer clothing for the parents? I would have thought school
uniforms, pocket money and saving funds would be the first choice.

In summary, I hardly think parents are living the life of riley with too
much time on their hands and so much money they don’t know what to do with it.

Carol Davis
Personnel Assistant, Details supplied


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