This week’s global HR news in brie

Laughter is must-have business skill for Koreans

Postal workers in South Korea are starting the day with a smile after taking lessons from a laughter instructor. In a country where solemn and serious behaviour is the accepted norm, people often have difficulty laughing.

But according to reports in the press, Korea Post is trying to change that with work-based classes for hundreds of staff. At the firm’s offices in Seoul, postal workers start their morning exercise with 10 minutes of bowing and giggling amid wild hand-clapping. And laughter is proving contagious, with firms ranging from factories to department stores now considering laughing as a business skill – especially as customers are demanding a better service.

Tutor Joseph Lee told the International Herald Tribune: “Once Koreans begin laughing, they are uncontrollable. They really roll on the floor and it can be laughing chaos. They just don’t know how to begin.”

US female and non-white staff face daily discrimination

About 15% of all US workers have been subjected to some sort of discriminatory treatment, according to a Gallup poll of more than 1,250 workers, released to mark the 40th anniversary of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The EEOC received nearly 75,500 formal discrimination charges in 2005, with race accounting for more than a third. Americans of Asian background believed they suffered the highest levels of discrimination (31%), but filed only 3% of charges. A quarter (26%) of African Americans experienced discrimination, representing more than 82% of the charges.

One-fifth (18%) of all complaints were about disabilities, and sex discrimination accounted for 31% of all charges, most filed by women.

Oz restaurants under fire for alleged abuse of migrant staff

Some restaurants in Canberra, Australia, have been accused of exploiting Filipino workers, treating some like slaves and even forcing them to eat scraps of rubbish.

David Bibo, organiser at the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union (LHMU), said that migrant workers had been exploited, forced to work long hours and racially vilified. One had been refused medical treatment and another had been effectively kidnapped and driven to Sydney “to be put on a plane home”, only to escape when police pulled the car over for speeding.

The Australian Department of Immigration is investigating the claims, which are disputed by the restaurant trade. The industry says it has enough trouble finding quality workers that it cannot afford to exploit those it already has. The LHMU has lodged three complaints with Canberra’s human rights commissioner about the treatment of staff, reports the Canberra Times.

New rules to give US investors clearer information

New rules from the US Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) will give shareholders more and clearer information on executive pay. For the first time, company reporting will include total compensation, including the value of stock options, the current and future costs of severance and retirement benefits, and other perks such as the use of corporate jets or apartments.

Executive pay packages totalling tens of millions of dollars have focused attention and criticism on how compensation is disclosed. While companies must currently disclose all forms of pay, components are listed in disparate ways that confuse average investors. The new proposals are the most significant change in 14 years, with disclosure requirements for non-cash benefits reduced to $10,000 (£5,623) from $50,000 (£28,115), and the valuation method of non-cash benefits being the company’s cost, not the taxable value to executives. The SEC is seeking public views on the new rules, with the final regulations due to come into force in early 2007.

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