Looking back at this year’s challenges

Susan Anderson, HR policy director at the Confederation of British Industry

The biggest challenge for the CBI in 2005 has been ensuring that age regulations don’t embitter the retirement process by basing it on competency, undermining the existing statutory redundancy scheme, which works well, or threatening the provision of long-service benefits to staff.

Tightening up the proposed rules on ‘planned retirement’ so that employers can retire employees at or beyond retirement age without fear of a tribunal claim being brought against them is one change that should be made.

The current statutory redundancy payments system entitles older workers to more money as a fair way of compensating for the fact that they find it harder to get a new job, often due to poor skill levels. Introducing a single entitlement for all would cause disruption without benefiting older workers.

We’ve worked hard with the Department of Trade and Industry to convince them of the case for retaining the current system and are hopeful that common sense will prevail.

Nicola Perkins, director of HR at Swansea College

Our biggest issue in the last 12 months has been the statutory dismissal procedures, as we are an FE college and employ 350 hourly paid, part-time lecturers on short-term contracts.

Traditionally, the practice in education has been that these contracts finish at the end of the academic year and are then renegotiated in September – but you can only prepare the staffing levels when you know what the student demands are.

To stick to the letter of the regulations, we would have to start consulting with the lecturers in May or June to make them aware that they may not be re-engaged the following year. So instead of doing things in a relaxed way, we are now being asked to organise sit-down meetings with each individual lecturer, which naturally causes a lot more work for everyone concerned.

This is not really a practical option so we have introduced permanent variable hours contracts, which tie the lecturer to us on a long-term basis but state they are guaranteed to work zero hours every year. This allows us to keep the lecturers on side without having to go through the whole consultation process.

Patrick Weir, HR manager responsible for employee relations at Swindon Borough Council

We have been doing lots of preparatory work for the introduction of the age discrimination regulations. This has mainly involved close scrutiny of the draft regulations to see what they might mean for our policies and practices.

There’s also the huge issue of the cultural impact they may have, because people often assume things about people of a certain age that may not necessarily be true.

We are looking at our redundancy policies and severance packages to see if they have age implications of any sort.

At the other end of the scale, we’ve also had to look at our approach to recruitment as this area can have quite subtle problems. For instance, if the wording of an advertisement mentions words like fresh and dynamic, this is often associated with young candidates and could be seen as discriminatory.

It is basically a case of going through all our policies and procedures with a fine toothcomb. This will obviously become easier once the legislation is finalised, but until then we are doing everything in our power to prepare.

Sarah Brown, HR director, Initial Security

The new statutory disciplinary and grievance procedures have more to them than we appreciated originally.

In the past, we have always operated to a code of practice that mirrors the Acas code, and while the procedures don’t look much different, they do have some unusual elements to them.

Most notably, if someone is dismissed, they now have the right to raise a grievance even if they are no longer employed but think they have been discriminated against. This has basically required us to pass on information about the changes to all of our managers and run through all the possible scenarios with them.

But in saying this, the most important legal issue we have dealt with this year has been the fact that April and October are now singled out for legislation.

This has given us much more scope to consult on the issues and also allows us to see what issues something like the Working Time Regulations throw up for other parts of the company – such as the cleaners. So it has been a really positive change.

Kirsty Wood, Head of HR at Manpower

Possibly the biggest challenge for Manpower in 2005 has been the introduction of the Road Transport (Working Time) Regulations in April, because this legislation is directly applicable to our specialist driving network, Manpower Driving.

The Road Transport Regulations were introduced in a climate of scepticism and negativity that had been generated by the national and business media, the industry bodies, the companies working in the logistics industry and the drivers themselves.

In addition to ensuring that we complied with the new rules, we had to address the fears behind the introduction of the legislation by holding seminars and briefings for all our consultants and by developing materials and setting up an advice hotline for clients.

We also had to communicate concisely and accurately with drivers about how their working hours would be affected, and what procedures they had to follow to keep within the law.

However, we did manage to get it sorted in the end, and we are now fully compliant with the legislation.

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