In Brief

Rewarding staff the Anglo-Saxon way

• French giant Alcatel has broken national tradition by granting 7.2 million
stock options to 99 per cent of its staff worldwide. It is adopting the
strongly Anglo-Saxon practice in order to "motivate and retain key
employees", said a statement. Resistance in France to such arrangements is
caused partly by the heavier tax regime than the US or Britain, and partly due
to connotations of "élitism" with the feeling they largely benefit
the most senior directives.

Firms fail to mark Martin Luther King Day

• Only around a quarter of US employers gave staff the day off last Monday,
which was Martin Luther King day. The figure was actually slightly down on the
year before, according to research, carried out by independent publisher BNA.
Those which comply are predominantly the banks and government departments. Many
African Americans took the day off whether or not their companies observed it,
and attended parades or conferences, said Aubry Stone, president of the
California Black Chamber of Commerce.

Luxembourg is yet to join employee forum move

• Negotiations over the first European works councils under Portuguese law
began in December, following the compliance of Portugal, which currently has
the EU presidency, with the Works Council Directive. With the passing of the
law in the UK on 15 January, Luxembourg is now the only EU country not to
comply with the law requiring an employee forum for transnational companies.
Portuguese firms where discussions have begun are mostly in the banking and
chemical sectors, including the Caixa Geral de Depósitos and the Banco Pinto e
Sotto Mayor.

US firms face more discrimination cases

• Private lawsuits alleging discrimination in the workplace rose threefold
in the US in the 1990s, official figures show. Cases filed with the courts rose
from 6,936 in 1990 to 21,540 in 1998, the Justice Department reported. Civil
rights complaints of all varieties more than doubled, increasing from 18,793 to

Swiss workforce up to full strength

• Switzerland has approached full employment, latest figures show, with
fewer than 100,000 out of work. The unemployment rate is 2.7 per cent, and
economists predict that if anything it will actually fall in the course of the
next year. Le Figaro

Hours law is discriminatory, court rules

• The planned 35-hour week in France has received a setback after the
constitutional court ruled key parts were illegal. The Socialist government has
offered firms the opportunity to pay only 10 per cent extra for overtime if
they introduced the shorter working week promptly, with the rate increasing to
25 per cent after two years. The court ruled the two-tier scheme was
discriminatory. FT

By Philip Whiteley

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