Global newsround

All the latest on what’s happening in HR around the world, By Philip Whitley

Business goes to court over Clinton’s final law

Employers in the US are pressing ahead with a challenge to one of the last
pieces of labour regulation introduced by the outgoing Clinton administration.
On 19 January, the day of George W Bush’s inauguration, his predecessor’s law
on strict compliance for government contractors became effective. It means that
companies that have violated labour, tax or other federal laws will be barred
from winning government contracts. The US Chamber of Commerce is planning the
lawsuit, claiming the regulation illegally alters present laws to add new
penalties and is too sweeping in its powers.

The new law does, however, strengthen the hand of HR managers by adding to
the business case for fair employment practice.

Singapore joins hunt for Indian talent

North American and European employers are not the only ones rushing to
attract highly qualified people from the Asian subcontinent. Companies in
Singapore with skill shortages are also looking to recruit from India,
according to the Far Eastern Economic Review.

"Singapore is a high-tech country with relatively high labour costs, a
strong international presence and a need for skilled labour," said Daniel
Gay, an analyst at Singaporean consultancy Strategic Intelligence. "Indian
programmers are highly skilled; the country needs to develop trade links and
wants more foreign investment."

Working-time laws strengthen in Europe

The move to shorter working hours in the European Union continues. At the
end of 2000 the EU reached agreement on incorporating road transport employees
within the scope of the 1993 Directive limiting working time to 48 hours a
week, with rules on rest breaks and shift patterns. The measure excludes
independent drivers for two years, at which point there will be a review.

In France, the head of the employers’ body MEDEF, Ernest-Antoine Seillière,
called for a moratorium on imposing the 35-hour week on small employers. Those
with fewer than 20 staff will come under the scope of the law from January

In Sweden, there is to be a review of working-time legislation. A new
commission will explore giving greater choice to employees and flexibility to
employers, but will also seek to reduce hours.

Eastern Europe aids mobility

Progress has been recorded in bilateral discussions between the European
Union and Hungary on freedom of movement for employees.

Hungary has made "considerable progress" regarding freedom of
movement, according to the Economic and Social Affairs Committee of the EU,
although it noted the potential for upheavals in labour markets given the
considerably higher wages available in the West.

The moves are part of a general drive to make it easier for Western European
HR managers to recruit. It follows announcements by Germany and the UK that
visa requirements for Asian software specialists will be relaxed.

Unions gather signatories in Uruguay

Trade unions have underlined their strength in Uruguay by gathering 48,000 votes
in a petition against a partial privatisation of some state enterprises. It
forms part of a campaign for a referendum on the moves, which would come ten
years after a referendum ruled out privatisation of the telecoms network, run
by the state agency Antel.

The small country has avoided the wave of privatisations that has swept
through the rest of South America. The coalition government of Jorge Batlle
wants to increase managerial freedom to develop services and greater capital,
but unions fear weaker job security.

Argentine women go to work

Attempts by the Argentine government to increase participation in the labour
market have had a dramatic effect on women, but no impact on young people or
those over 45. The three categories of employees were targeted for state
incentives as they have had the highest rates of unemployment. A law introduced
a 50% cut in employer contributions for firms which took on unemployed people
from one of these three groups.

A survey by the independent agency Equis found that unemployment among
female heads of household in greater Buenos Aires was 18% lower in October 2000
compared with a year earlier, while unemployment remained the same for those
over 45 and rose slightly for young people.

Merit pay helps turn Nissan round

Performance-related pay has played a key role in reversing the declining
fortunes of Japanese company Nissan, according to a report in Time magazine.
Renault chief executive Carlos Ghosn has become an unlikely hero in Japan since
the French giant took over control of the ailing firm in March 1999.

Ghosn ended pay based on seniority, a feature of many Japanese pay schemes,
and brought in a stock-option plan. Together with closure of unprofitable
businesses, the measure has produced a $1.56bn profit, the first for Nissan in
seven years.

Civil servants and business leaders in Japan have coined the term
"Ghosn-san" as a reference point for reform of business, Time

Redundant dot-commers reach for their lawyers

Dot-com companies laying off staff in the US have been forced to pay
compensation, even to employees without contracts, according to a report by the
Society for Human Resource Management. In theory, most staff affected are known
as "at-will" employees and can be made redundant without explanation.
But "at-will" employees might successfully sue their former employer
if they can prove the company induced them to take a job by misrepresenting
facts about its capital and prospects.

In one case, a company enticed a woman to move to Silicon Valley from
Chicago by telling her that it had secured $10m in venture capital. In reality,
the company had landed only $7m and had to eliminate the woman’s job. She won

Korean unions accuse president of undermining

South Korean banking unions have accused the government of reneging on an
agreement it made last July to ensure that the workforce was informed and
consulted over job cuts.

Since the agreement was made, President Kim Dae Jung has sided with the
banks in a major industrial dispute over compulsory redundancies resulting from
the merger of two of the country’s main retail banks, the Kookmin and the
Housing & Commercial Bank.

In mid-January, President Kim sent in riot police to break up a union
demonstration. The conflict forms part of government attempts to encourage
consolidation in a banking sector it sees as overstaffed.

The moves see the role of HR managers sidelined as unions and the president
fight a major political battle.

Consultation law nears for Europe

German opposition to compulsory staff consultation is close to ending,
Brussels insiders have reported. This means that a law forcing all employers in
the union with more than 50 staff to consult with employees on business changes
is almost certain to be passed, probably towards the end of this year.

Under the EU’s voting mechanism at least two large or three small countries
are needed to block a law, and the UK is now the only country in opposition.

At the end of last year the European Union finalised 20 years of
negotiations by agreeing a European Company Statute, which enables a firm to
register just once as a European company. A company will have to reach
country-by-country agreements on levels of worker representation to register.

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