The economic downturn has thrown a spotlight on many HR issues, from redundancies and pay freezes to redeploying staff. Personnel Today asked leading employment bodies what HR-related topics they would like to see in next week’s Budget to help struggling employers combat the recession and emerge ready for the upturn.
According to the CBI, the government should plough more money into the skills brokerage service Train to Gain to enable employers to upskill staff. However, it is already in danger of overspending due to increased demand by smaller companies (SMEs). Both the CBI and TUC have also urged the government to allow larger firms to access funding to train their staff in modules, rather than whole courses. This increased flexibility was arranged for SMEs last year. Meanwhile, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) believes the government should offer tax credits for employers who continue to train staff, or retain apprentices. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has long called for support for firms to retrain staff.
The CBI, along with the BCC and manufacturers’ body EEF, has called for National Insurance employer contributions to remain the same, as the rise due in 2011 would hit businesses while they’re recovering from the recession. The CIPD called for cuts in employer contributions for smaller businesses. Elsewhere, the EEF highlighted that employers need support to meet the demands of the Equality Bill, which is expected to be published by the end of April and will encourage organisations to do more to eradicate the gender pay gap. Both groups also called on the government to delay implementation of the Agency Workers Directive – which gives agency worker staff the same rights as permanent employees after just 12 weeks – until the latest possible date, October 2011.
Many employers in the manufacturing, financial services and service sectors have already implemented shorter working weeks, and both unions and employer groups have called for the government to create a short-time working scheme or subsidy to assist employers in holding onto staff in anticipation of an eventual upturn in the economy. However, it has been met with opposition from the CIPD (which supported it in October 2008, but most recently claimed that it was too late) and the CBI, which said it was a big cost that would turn out to be “ultimately purposeless”, as many employers with no intention of making any redundancies would take the money.
The TUC revealed a £25bn public investment programme in its budget submission, focusing on increasing reliance on green manufacturing and renewable energy, improving transport and communications infrastructure and house building. This would create or safeguard almost one million jobs, it claimed. The CBI has called for help for employers to move to low-carbon work, as well as schemes to create jobs in the automotive industry building electric cars – a move supported by the BCC. The CIPD said it backed a ‘green work movement’ driven through financial incentives, business reporting requirements and the encouragement of best practice.
The CBI said Jobcentre Plus needed an extra £150m per annum for welfare-to-work support to deal with a surge in demand to get the newly unemployed back into work. The TUC said the government agency needed further funding to provide more intensive and personalised support for those out of work. Meanwhile, the BCC looked to new infrastructure projects totalling £20bn over the next 12 months to get hundreds of thousands of unemployed off benefits and back to work.