Cause for concern

Andrew Foster
HR director, NHS

For the first two thirds of 2004 I spent a lot of time worrying about the European Working Time Directive, which partially came into effect on 1 August, and the Rest Directive which covered junior doctors for the first time.

Generally in a hospital the senior doctors or consultants work from 8.30am to 6pm, Monday to Friday and outside these hours the junior doctors in training mainly supply the medical cover. For many years the NHS also had this system of residents on call, where doctors were asked to cover for 16 hours on the expectation that they would only work for half that time and not get paid for the hours they were asleep or watching TV.

The Working Time Directive changed all this, as it said that doctors had to be paid for all the time they are on site – even when they’re not working. Depending on what way you look at it, this immediately doubled our pay bill or halved our medical resources.

Broadly speaking we asked doctors to switch from on-call to working shifts and changed the rotas so there was lots of cross-covering. We also developed specialist teams of medical and non-medical staff under the Hospital At Night programme.

We organised a huge communications exercise and used our performance management arm to identify those hospitals that weren’t ready for the changes and focused closely on them. It was a long, complex process but the result was that by 1 August the NHS was almost totally compliant.

Rob Halton
HR director, DLA

Uppermost in our minds is the European Directive on consultation, due to be implemented in 2005. More specifically, how we set up a communication and consultation network that conforms to the legislation and keeps the business functioning.

This time last year we had more branches in the UK than continental Europe. Now we have more in Europe. So we have had to cope with lots of issues to do with integration, harmonisation and communicating to make sure the culture of the firm is the same regardless of where it is

At the same time, we have had to come to terms with lots of different national and European laws and, more specifically, how each country interprets European law, because it can vary enormously.

We have mainly done this through talking and listening – and trying our best to never assume that what we do in the UK is right. Part of that comes from realising that we are dealing with different cultures that consult in different ways. For instance, the Dutch are a very liberal society and expect you to consult on everything, and the British expect you to just get on with it.

It all relies on having flexibility within your team to effectively deal with each situation in the context of the wider European law. But it’s also about listening to see how HR operates in each county, how it is used, what it does and what it is capable of.

Mike Sibbald
HR director, Argos Group

The national minimum wage has had the biggest implications for us as a retailer because we have a high number of low-paid employees in our stores. But we take the opinion that the government has made the decision so we have to implement it.

Our only concern is the speed with which it has risen above £5, as over the next few years this will have a major effect on everyone else. If we have to increase pay by 7 or 8 per cent for the low paid, it has to be at the expense of the other levels. Other benefits like pensions and health plans are also at risk because at the end of the day there is a limited pot of money. And in a low inflation, price competitive climate there is limited opportunity to pass those cost increases on to the consumer. In the end the business suffers.

From an HR point of view we have simply done our best to accommodate the effects. There are 5,000 people within the Argos Retail Group and there is no doubt that it has focused our attention on giving the low paid a reasonable wage. Very few people have issues with the principle of properly rewarding people who work so hard for us. It just has to be watched carefully to see the effects it has on the wider aspects of the business.

Nick Michaels
Head of branch pay, benefits and policy development, Department of Constitutional Affairs

The Department of Constitutional Affairs runs the courts in England and Wales and has around 12,000 employees. But as of 1 April 2005, we will also be responsible for the employees of the 42 magistrates’ courts in England and Wales. This means we will roughly double in size.

The difficulty is that until now magistrates’ courts have employed their own staff and been run by separate committees. As a result, they have all developed their own approaches to such things as reward structures and pay.

Our job is to draw this into a single body, so over the last 12 months we have primarily been concerned with TUPE. The question has been how you build an organisation that protects people’s rights under TUPE; while simultaneously negotiating things like a new reward structure, pension plan, working conditions and contractual terms? For instance, we have to create a single HR policy out of 43 different disciplinary procedures.

While TUPE is rightly designed to protect people, staff also generally want to keep the best bits of their old systems to merge with the best bits of everyone else’s. Unfortunately, the simple truth is that we can’t afford to do this.

It is basically a huge jigsaw puzzle made infinitely more complicated by TUPE. To get around it we have set a clear timetable of what has to be completed by next April. We have also had to transmit to people that there is basically a limit to what you can and can’t expect.

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