Will it be another annus horribilis?

This year has seen an unprecedented volume of new employment legislation
and, consequently, long hours for HR practitioners. So what have been the main headaches
in 2002, and where will the challenges lie in 2003? Compiled by Phil Boucher

Colin Moreland
Head of HR, at SSSL British Sky Broadcasting

In the past year, like most other businesses, we
have had to keep abreast of the continuing stream of new legislation.

It has been a major challenge to interpret the case law that has developed
as a result of this and we have questioned and reviewed our own interpretation
of the legislation whenever the case law has been published. As a result, we have
revisited and, where necessary, amended our own internal policies and
procedures to ensure that we take account of the case law that continually
shapes the letter and spirit of the legislation.

Over the next year, we anticipate it will continue to be a major challenge
to implement some of the recent legislation, particularly The Flexible Working
(Eligibility, Complaints and Remedies) Regulations 2002 and The Flexible
Working (Procedural Requirements) Regulations 2002. These present us with the
requirement to consider requests for flexible working from all parents with
children up to six years old, and from those who have disabled children aged 18
years or under.

Being such a large employer and working in a 24-hour business, we already
have more than 1,000 shifts to administer, which is not easy by any means. It
may be that the legislation causes the number of shifts to increase, which
will, in turn, increase our difficulties further. However, I am certain the
problems associated with providing such flexibility will be much more difficult
for smaller businesses. So regardless of the changes that take place, we should
be more than able to cope.

We will also have to take account of the new rights that fixed-term
employees will have. Again this may cause problems in the initial
implementation.

Historically, we have used fixed-term contracts in some parts of the
business to cover increased business activity for limited periods as it gives
us the flexibility to increase and decrease staffing as required. With the
rights of those on fixed-term contracts being aligned to those of permanent
staff, it may not be as useful to have this workforce as it has been in the
past. On the other hand, I can see that it can be viewed as only fair and
reasonable. The application of the regulations will be interesting for us and
will cause us to make changes to certain areas of the business.

Richard Boniface
Managing director, Paymaster

Throughout 2002, the management of
TUPE transfers has been quite demanding for us. Being a pensions
administration/payroll outsourcing company, we are used to large numbers of
staff transferring into the company, but each circumstance is fraught with
issues of interpretation and approach. TUPE does protect staff rights, but we
sometimes feel a more relaxed and bespoke interpretation should be applied.
Paymaster has been through two major transitions in 2002. Each transfer
requires dedicated operational and HR resources, with the focus being on
constant communication and support. My desire is to ensure employees improve
their work-life balance without affecting customer service. Turning policies
into workable practices will take some careful consideration and creative
solutions.

Nicky Mindell
Commercial director, Interactive Skills

We have found the sheer volume of
employment law changes in the last year a headache – one we anticipate will
continue next year. Without dedicated legal or personnel departments, the time
needed to update policies, ensure compliance with new legislation and brief
staff can divert attention away from activities that have a greater impact on
the bottom line. It can also be difficult to apply the relevant legal
principles so they promote equal opportunities and retain commercial viability
– benefits packages tend to be more favourable for part-timers, representing a
significant additional cost to the business. Changes to the data protection
laws entitling people to see their job interview notes have made us change the
way we work – we rigorously monitor the quality of our associate assessors’
work to ensure we stay within the framework of the legislation.

Bill Gregory
External examiner, CIPD

The biggest headache over the last
year has been TUPE. When has it applied, when hasn’t it applied, and why can’t
the two parties involved in a transfer ever agree? As though that wasn’t bad
enough, there are also the ‘spin-offs’ – why do employers want to use TUPE as a
performance management solution? And why do they try to transfer people who
have been put onto contracts for the exclusive reason that it will make it
easier to get rid of them? This type of behaviour compounds employees’ distrust
of the employers and does business no good at all. We need a clear framework to
operate within for moral reasons and to provide the all-important level
economic playing field. Looking ahead, my headache for the year ahead will be
worrying about how temps are treated in light of The Flexible Working
Regulations 2002.

Ron Barker
HR director, Claybrook Computing

One of the most interesting
developments of the last 12 months is one that will continue to affect us into
the future – the new regulations regarding fixed-term employees and the need
for their terms and conditions to be equivalent to permanent members of staff.
We need to employ people on a project basis. Up until 1 October 2002, those
contracted to work for a specific period or project were generally paid a
higher fee than equivalent permanent employees – in part, to recognise the
skill levels required but mainly to compensate for the lack of other benefits.
The new regulations, while they should be welcomed as they prevent less
favourable treatment, need to be applied carefully to ensure companies do not
unfairly discriminate against permanent employees. It is a balancing act that
companies need to consider carefully.

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