What could ID cards mean for HR?
Compulsory ID cards are the latest political ‘big idea’ to split the nation’s policy makers. But as MP acrimoniously hammer out the details, opinion among the business community is equally polarised.
The Identity Cards Bill was announced in the Queens Speech back in May, but the government’s majority on the issue has slipped amid concerns about privacy, reliability, security and, crucially, costs.
The scheme is also losing public support, with the latest YouGov figures showing that just 45% of people support ID cards, compared to more than 75% in 2003.
Although the introduction of ID cards will undoubtedly simplify some employer duties to do with background checks or an individual’s right to work in the UK, the current uncertainty does little to help firms prepare.
The issue has been further clouded for employers by the assertion that the cards may be introduced on a voluntary basis before becoming compulsory.
Ben Willmott, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said the political machinations make it hard for HR to envisage the impact of ID cards.
“It’s very political at the moment and it’s not clear how the system will work or even how it will be funded,” he said. ‘However, it looks as if it could simplify the process of checking if a candidate is allowed to work in the UK.”
In broader terms the CBI welcomed the latest version of the Bill, highlighting a number of key benefits for businesses including better sharing of information between the public and private sectors and a much needed tool to combat fraud.
CBI deputy director general, John Cridland, said recent developments had gone some way to ease business concerns, but that crucial questioned remained unanswered.
“ID cards could be a positive step towards tackling identity theft which is an increasing threat to companies and consumers. They could also make a significant contribution to improving the efficiency of public services by making it easier to exchange data,” he explained.
“Firms are concerned about information being shared without adequate safeguards. We want more information and serious questions remain unanswered,” he added.
At the other end of the spectrum trade unions are worried that ID cards could lead to discrimination against ethnic minority workers or those suffering from certain illnesses.
A TUC spokesperson said there were also fundamental concerns over privacy and the cost of the scheme to individuals: “We are concerned about the damaging impact the proposals may have on already vulnerable groups in our society. There are fears that some employers will only hire black and ethnic minority people if they can show an ID card, even before they become compulsory for everyone.”
There are also legal concerns over the information that could be stored on the proposed biometric cards.
Robert Bond, a partner at law firm Faegre and Benson, said the way employers access or use information from ID cards could lead to problems.
“We’ve seen a recent case in France where a company was taken to court because they were using an ID card scheme to monitor staff. The [UK] Bill could also place an unnecessary administrative burden on employers, because they may be responsible for updating certain pieces of information,” he said.
Bond also warned that the way employers used information from the cards could lead to data protection problems. Although workers would be protected against out of date or inaccurate data by the Information Commissioner, it is unclear who would judge what information was relevant when recruiting staff.
“The whole of the ID card Bill will be substantially challenged by the data protection laws. One of the worries is there is nothing specific in there about information that is of no relevance to employment.
“However, if the rights of the individual are protected as well as they should be, this could be a useful tool for HR. It could be used for some references and replace existing pre-employment checks, although that’s still a long way off.”