New laws will shake up way HR operates

Companies face a massive
culture change in how they deal with staff following publication of government
proposals on two vital pieces of employment legislation.

First, the Government has
outlined plans for implementing the Information and Consultation Directive
(ICD) that will encourage employers to consult at an earlier stage and in more
detail, on all issues affecting employees. These include job security, terms
and conditions of employment, restructuring, plans to sell, and any business
strategy, which might directly impact on people in the workplace.

Many may balk at this, but
the reality is that it is in the employers’ interests to play ball. Firms that
take the initiative will be able to set their own agendas and introduce
consultation arrangements that suit them.

If they don’t, they risk
having work councils imposed upon them. Under the proposals, employers will
have to introduce information and consultation arrangements if just 10 per cent
of the workforce request them. If a voluntary agreement cannot be reached,
firms risk being forced to create a works council and will then face rigid
consultation requirements.

The second and just as
significant announcement by the DTI regarded plans to introduce legislation
outlawing age discrimination at work.

Employers will have to review
all HR policies to ensure they don’t purposely or inadvertently discriminate
against older staff. This will protect them from discrimination claims, but
just as important, it will help them become employers of choice for older staff.
Organisations that struggle to recruit and retain older staff will also battle
to compete.

Both pieces of legislation
present the HR profession with a significant challenge that must be taken up
now, even though the ICD does not become law until 2005 and age discrimination
until 2006.

New policies and focused
training will have to be developed months in advance if organisations are going
to stand any chance of being prepared for the new laws.

Firms need to begin educating
and preparing their senior and line managers for both these landmark changes
right now.

By Penny Wilson, deputy editor of
Personnel Today

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