Letters

This
week’s letters

Is time running out for the Working Time
Directive?

UK
employers must be vigilant about the European Commission’s review of the
Working Time Directive, repeatedly covered by Personnel Today.

The
Commission is focusing on those provisions that enable individual workers to
enter an agreement with their employer to opt out of restrictions on working
more than an average 48-hour week. However, the European Parliament has called
for the "phasing out, as soon as possible, of the individual opt-out".

The
Commission is playing its cards close to its chest, but there are grounds for
believing that it will propose the introduction of additional conditions under
the guise of safeguarding the health and safety of opted-out workers.

UK
employers stand to lose the opt-out at their peril. We in construction have
worked hard with our unions to incorporate as much flexibility into our
collective agreements as the WTD  would allow, and are keen for
the opt-out to be retained.

Indeed,
more than 80 per cent of respondents to a recent survey carried out among the
1,400 corporate members of the Heating and Ventilating Contractors’ Association
claimed that restrictions on working hours would mean a lack of flexibility,
leading to a failure to meet deadlines. And almost half confirmed that its
removal would create a need to recruit more operatives to fulfil workload
commitments. So, even if such people were available in number with the level of
skill required, the net result would be to add to costs.

As
far as British industry is concerned, it is essential that such flexibility is
retained. Much of the employment legislation that emanates from Europe
has been vague and imprecise. While we do
not want prescription from our political masters – whether at home or in
Brussels – we cannot afford arrangements that take little
(if any) account of our business processes and requirements.

Michael J Taylor

President, Heating and Ventilating
Contractors’ Association

BA sick leave policy does not include pay

Your
article ‘BA stands its ground despite staffing crisis’ (News, 7 September)
contains an important factual error.

It
stated that BA’s new absence policy  "will see employees given
a £1,000 lump sum as long as they take less than 17 sick days over two
years".

This
was an initial proposal made to our trade unions during the pay talks and
reported widely, but it was superseded by a final agreed pay deal that had no
link to individual absence figures.

What
BA agreed on was a new absence policy with the trade unions in tandem with the
pay deal. This new, more stringent policy aims to reduce the average level of
absence from 17 days per worker to 10 days.

The
new policy will tackle our absence problem while continuing to support those
who are genuinely absent from work. Unlike the pay agreement, which runs for a
three-year period, the new absence arrangements are a permanent policy that
form part of our long-term people strategy.

Neil Robertson

Director for people, British Airways

Sick leave solution will not be simple

I
am writing with regard to your ongoing coverage of sick leave. If workers are
unwell, they need to take time off to fully recover – not force themselves into
work where they could also infect their fellow staff.

Managing
absence is a complex process, which cannot be addressed through bribery or withholding pay. The only way to
effectively manage absenteeism is through a combination of early medical advice
and accurate, systematic management information.

We
have reduced absence by more than 30 per cent for our clients by using a
medical-led service, whereby our client’s employees contact our nursing team to
record their absence. We have also had very positive feedback from employees,
with 73 per cent indicating they found the early medical advice they received
either ‘helpful’ or ‘very helpful’.

Managers
are mistaken if they believe that any simplistic, gimmicky solution has any
chance of resolving a long-standing, complex problem.

Haakon Overli

Chief financial officer, Active Health
Partners

Refugees are only human beings too

I
have just read the feature on refugees (7 September).

A
while back, Personnel Today asked its
readers: ‘Are you afraid of hiring refugees?’ I don’t understand why anyone would
be. They are human beings after all, and they are only here to escape the
suffering and killings in their own countries. They’re not here for the fun of
it, or to be treated as second-class citizens.

Some
peoples’ attitudes towards those who have gone through so much are absolutely
disgusting.  They should be ashamed of
themselves.

Fazia Hussain

TUC academy organiser, Amicus

BT interview sheds light on state of BA

I
was fascinated by Mike Berry’s interview with Caroline Waters of British Telecom
(News, 24 August).

I
worked in senior HR roles at BT from 1987 to 1994 when much of the change that
Caroline was talking about was taking place. We learned a number of very hard
lessons at that time. We had a very serious industrial dispute in the early
days that badly damaged customer service. We recognised then that HR, customer
service and shareholder interest had to be managed hand in hand.

We
learned an enormous amount from BA, which was a pioneer in managing people
empowerment and customer service. Colin Marshall even joined the BT Group
Board. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, BA was a beacon for the HR profession.
The interesting question is,
what went wrong? It will not be one singular thing – there has been a
fundamental change in the marketplace, the climate of industrial relations is
changing, we are in a full employment economy, and Heathrow is getting bigger
and bigger in a very tight local labour market.

BA
is no doubt finding its high management skills being extended to the full. I
suspect that the seismic changes in the environment that BA is operating in
will require very fundamental responses from it. Meanwhile, the flower of the
recent dispute may bear the seeds of the next one.

Paul Newman

Partner, Latitude Resourcing

Single equality Act should be the focus

In
a past News Barometer, you asked whether your readers supported a Government
move to create a single equality body (News, 22 July).

I
support the move, but I have some reservations. What is really needed is a single
equality Act, and the Government is dragging its feet over that.

Additionally,
the improvement of all the current bodies within the Single Equality Body
should always be the ultimate aim.

Lynne Baird

Generalist adviser and social policy
co-ordinator, Citizens Advice

NHS must broaden horizons to succeed

What
a wonderful article on Andrew Foster. The NHS is facing problems head on and
Andrew Foster, as the HR director, is hoping to achieve a huge cultural shift
(News Analysis, 10 August). Ah, but wait – turn to the recruitment pages  of that same issue, and the NHS has at least
six advertisements for HR professionals – but only those with experience of
working in the NHS! Oh, how narrow the mind of the public sector.

To
create change you need people with new ideas, new innovation around  standard
practices, experience in wider industries, no preconceptions. By recruiting
those who have been there before, will the culture ever change?

Be
brave, Foster, and open your eyes to the excellent professionals who don’t have
an NHS bias.

Details supplied

Our union reps need to be well educated

In
News Barometer in the 24 August edition, you asked: ‘Should the Government fund
the training of union representatives?’

I
feel that to stop returning to the bad days of the 1960s, we need educated reps
fighting for the working person in a way that will not
bring the country to its knees.

John Wheatley

Details supplied

Dodgy doctor notes causing difficulties

I
write following your numerous reports on the problems surrounding the
management of sickness leave.

We
frequently find ourselves presented with private sickness certificates that are
either poorly completed with very limited details (specifying things such as
backache or headache), or incorrect dates.

We
received one on Friday 20th from an employee, which was signed and dated as
Monday 23rd by the doctor.

Sometimes
the certificates are not dated at all, or fail to state how long an employee
has been signed off for.

These
certificates just seem to be handed out almost without any patient
consultation. All the worker has to do is pay. The certificates themselves are
always poor quality and appear to be photocopied.

How
do other employers tackle this issue, particularly when they believe the worker
may not be genuinely ill? I would welcome their views.

 Esther O’ Halloran

Head of people, EAT

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