News review 2006: Race for equality sets the tone

January


The year kicked off with the revelation that Trevor Phillips, then head of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), was advising a recruitment firm that broke race laws by refusing to take on white candidates. The CRE insisted there was no wrong-doing, despite calls for an investigation.


Personnel Today revealed a “buried” clause in the Work and Families Bill that would have given the government carte blanche to increase statutory redundancy pay.


Employers in the NHS were found to be breaking the law by making illegal background checks on new employees, not just those with patient access.


February


Gloucestershire Police became the latest force to reject job applications from white males in a bid to boost diversity. One of the rejected candidates told Personnel Today that the force was creating an environment ripe for racism.


Our exclusive Tough Love research found that UK employers waste more than £30m a year on underperforming staff – with the public sector the worst offender.


Gate Gourmet, the firm at the centre of high-profile industrial unrest at Heathrow in summer 2005, revealed half its HR team had quit since the dispute.


March


The Ministry of Defence revealed it expects to save £280m over the next 10 years by slashing its HR function and introducing a shared-services centre.


Asda’s HR director launched a stinging attack on the GMB union, accusing it of waging a “cynical and deliberate” campaign against the supermarket. The union was in dispute with the company over alleged union-busting activity.


Richard Lambert was unveiled as the successor to Sir Digby Jones as the CBI’s director-general.


April


One of the biggest HR jobs in Europe was up for grabs after Andrew Foster resigned as workforce director at the Department of Health. Early favourites to replace him all came from within the health service, although the department was keen to attract external experience.


UK HR directors are the profession’s second highest earners worldwide, a global study found. They earn an average annual salary of £90,000, second only to their US counterparts.


May


The month began with an exclusive story revealing the government’s own redundancy scheme would be illegal under the new age regulations. Lawyers warned this would have implications for large numbers of employers that modelled their schemes on the Civil Service package.


Sick days fell to their lowest level in 20 years, according to the annual CBI absence report. But the direct cost of sickness rose to more than £13bn in 2005.


June


A special investigation revealed HR professionals felt there was growing bias against them from tribunal chairs. Readers claimed preferential treatment was being given to trained lawyers at employment tribunals and feared being “blacklisted” if they complained.


Doctors slammed employers for a lack of action on absence management, calling the sicknote approach a “cop out”.


Attempts to implement equal pay were put in jeopardy after two trade unions faced legal action from their members, claiming they had been shortchanged in compensation.


July


Members of the HR team at insurance giant Groupama slammed its senior management for failing to consult them on a decision to outsource its recruitment function. The company insisted it was right to make the decision.


The head of the new Ethnic Minority Advisory Group told Personnel Today that it would be lobbying the government hard to take a series of “powerful and affirmative measures”, including changes in the law, to allow positive discrimination.


August


The first of the Cabinet Office’s capability reviews was published, and revealed poor people management and inadequate HR lay at the heart of Whitehall failings. Four departments were scrutinised, with the Home Office being the worst offender.


Clare Chapman, Tesco’s group HR director, emerged as the surprising frontrunner for the top HR job at the Department of Health (DoH). NHS sources told Personnel Today that Chapman was a leading candidate, but the DoH remained tight-lipped on the appointment.


September


Chapman was confirmed as the new DoH workforce director, as we predicted two weeks previously.


It emerged that increasing numbers of civil servants were overturning dismissals because government HR departments were failing to follow statutory dismissal procedures.


The axe fell on the HR directors in the departments slated in the capability reviews, but the government insisted they were not being made scapegoats. The overhaul of Whitehall HR departments continued with a new recruitment campaign advertising top HR jobs.


October


Baby-boomer group Heyday won the right to challenge the mandatory retirement age of 65. It argued that allowing employers to force workers to retire left them without the right or choice to work.


Personnel Today’s exclusive 360-Degree Appraisal of HR survey revealed less than one-third of line managers believe their HR department offers good value for money – compared to 80% of HR professionals. Time, perhaps, for HR to reflect on its image.


November


A row over the threat of HR offshoring developed with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) accused of “burying its head in the sand”. It insisted there was little for HR to worry about, with outsourcing experts saying the threat was very real.


Pilot projects looking at alternatives to GP sicknotes failed to make any impact, leaving plans to reform the system in limbo.


December


The year ended as it had begun, with Trevor Phillips on the front page and positive discrimination making the headlines. Phillips – who will head the Commission for Equality and Human Rights when it takes over from the CRE, the Disability Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission in October 2007 – chairs the Equalities Review that will report to the government in the New Year. Allowing employers to take “special measures” in favouring ethnic minority applicants looks certain to be a recommendation.


Sir Digby Jones was appointed as two-day-a-week training tsar.


The Leitch Review on skills set out ambitious goals for 2020. It recommends that firms commit to a new training ‘pledge’.


See 9 January issue for a preview of HR’s big challenges in 2007




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