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Birmingham City Council has lost its bid to have the equal pay claims of 174 former employees struck out.

The employees had left the council between 2004 and 2008. They claimed that the council was in breach of the ‘equality clause’ inserted into their contracts of employment by failing to provide certain benefits and other payments which were payable to workers of the opposite sex employed on work rated as equivalent.

The respondents could have brought their claims in the employment tribunal, provided that they did so within the time limit applicable to them of up to six months after leaving their employment. They did not do so, however, and instead issued the claims later in the High Court, for which the time limit was six years from the date their cause of action accrued.

The council asked the High Court to strike out the claims on the ground that they ‘could more conveniently be disposed of separately by an employment tribunal’. The council's application was dismissed by the High Court. Its appeal to the Court of Appeal was also dismissed.

The council then appealed to the Supreme Court, which has now also dismissed the appeal.

The BBC reports that the former employees can now proceed with their compensation claims through the civil court system, and have up to six years to make their claims. The claims could be worth around £2 million for the group as a whole.

A consultation setting out plans for a new employment status called an ‘employee owner’ has been published by the Government.

Under the scheme, employee owners will have a different set of employment rights and they will be given shares in the company of between £2,000 and £50,000. The employment rights affected are:

  • unfair dismissal rights (apart from automatically unfair reasons and where dismissal is based on discriminatory grounds),
  • rights to redundancy pay,
  • certain statutory rights to request training,
  • the statutory right to request flexible working, and
  • employee owners will have to give more notice to their employer of their intention to return from maternity or adoption leave early.

An employer will be able to choose the new status and still choose to offer more rights to their staff (e.g. the right to request flexible working or higher levels of contractual redundancy pay).

Legislation to bring in the new employee owner contract will be introduced via the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, with the aim of companies being able to offer the new type of contract from April 2013.

Women's entrepreneurial potential is underexploited and the EU needs more women entrepreneurs to create growth and new jobs.

This was the main message of the European SME Week Summit in Brussels, which focused on encouraging women to consider setting up and running their own business, usually a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME).

The fact that women only account for 34.4% of the self-employed in Europe suggests that they need more encouragement to become entrepreneurs.

While European women are at least as well educated as men, only a few decide to set up a company in the fifteen years following their graduation. Lack of take-up can partly be explained by difficulties they encounter in reconciling private and professional activities.

In addition, existing business set-up support systems are not always tailored to women’s specific needs. Concerns faced by potential women entrepreneurs include greater difficulty accessing financing, professional networks and training and a possible lack of confidence due to the absence of appropriate role models.

Women also tend to be cautious and take more calculated risks, and to focus on creating companies in familiar areas and for which they can benefit from family support. They can fail to take full advantage of networking opportunities and often grow their businesses slowly and only if their family situation allows them to work long hours with a good probability of success. Women therefore require tailor-made support measures when setting up their businesses.

The TUC has issued a statement in response to the Government's recent announcement that it is to repeal sections of the Equality Act, less than two years after the legislation was introduced.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:

'Getting rid of third party harassment will make working life even harder for the thousands of care home staff, teachers and health workers who suffer prejudice and abuse from those they are trying to help.

'And taking away the power of tribunals to make recommendations to employers will make it much more difficult to deal with employers who serially bully and discriminate against their staff.

'These changes are in line with wider government plans to weaken employment rights and let bad bosses off the hook. This is no way to create the decent full-time jobs that this country so desperately needs.'

Government plans to increase the minimum wage by 1.8% for adult workers and freeze the rate for young workers will result in the lowest paid suffering a real terms pay cut, the TUC has claimed.

The TUC said that with inflation running at 2.9% (RPI), around 940,000 people, two-thirds of whom are women, would see a further squeeze on their living standards, with young people being hit the hardest.

Commenting on the new rates, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: 'While we are pleased that government has rejected the siren calls of some employers to freeze the minimum wage for adult workers and apprentices, these increases are still far below inflation and will leave the lowest paid facing a real terms cut.

'These new rates are a particular blow to younger people who will face the biggest hit on their living standards. There is no evidence that the minimum wage has had an adverse impact on young people's employment so it is hard to see the logic behind their pay freeze.

'Today's rate increases do not do enough to help hard-pressed families. We need a bolder increase next year otherwise the real incomes of minimum wage workers will continue to fall, along with consumer demand.'

The CBI has published its analysis of the impact of the Agency Workers Regulations (AWRs) a year after they came into force, in which it describes the regulations as a 'drag on job creation in this vital sector.'

The CBI has identified a number of priorities for the upcoming Government review of the regulations, which include:

  • Streamlining the highly complex definition of pay to allow for easier comparison.
  • Simplifying the 12-week qualification period so that those on short-term assignments aren’t needlessly caught up in the regulations.
  • Removing gold-plating where the regulations specifically go beyond that required by the directive and UK implementation agreement.
  • Stripping out the perverse incentive in the regulations to lodge opportunistic tribunal claims.

Key statistics about the agency sector in the UK include:

  • CBI research has shown that 57% of firms that use temps have reduced their use as a result of the regulations, 3% have increased their use, while 8% have stopped using temps all together.
  • TEAM research found that 38% of agencies reported a decline in assignments as a result of the regulations, and 18% reported an increase.
  • The same survey found that 62% of agencies reported a negative experience of the regulations.
  • BIS research prior to the implementation of the regulations showed that agency workers received, on average, 96% of the pay of comparable employees.

According to Deloitte’s new global talent survey four out of five (80%) employees plan to stay with their organisations over the next year, a significant increase from 2011 when nearly 65% were planning to leave.

Forty-six percent of the survey respondents indicate they are less inclined to move because, in the last 12 months, they have changed jobs (9%), were promoted (22%), or have taken new positions (15%) with their current employers. Surprisingly, however, nearly one-third (31%) say they are not satisfied with their jobs.

According to the survey, the top five reasons people seek new employment are primarily non-financial:

  • Lack of career progress (27%)
  • New opportunities in the market (22%)
  • Dissatisfaction with manager or supervisor (22%)
  • Lack of challenge in the job (21%)
  • Lack of compensation increases (21%)

However, the top five retention incentives for employees are primarily financial:

  • Additional bonuses or financial incentives (44%)
  • Promotion/job advancement (42%)
  • Additional compensation (41%)
  • Flexible work arrangements (26%)
  • Support and recognition from supervisors or managers (25%).

A recent report from the Ministry of Justice has revealed details on the level of employment tribunal activity during the 2011/12 financial year.

The data shows that:

  • There were 186,300 claims accepted by employment tribunals during 2011-12, a 15% fall on the number received in the previous year, and 21% lower than the number in 2009-10.
  • Employment tribunals disposed of 110,800 claims during 2011-12, a fall of 10% when compared with the previous year, but in-line with the number of claims disposed of in 2009-10. The recent fall in disposals was seen in both single and multiple claims, with decreases of 6% and 14% respectively.
  • A claim to an employment tribunal can contain a number of different types of complaint, known as jurisdictional complaints. When deciding any claim, the tribunal has to make determinations under each jurisdiction. The total number of jurisdictional complaints accepted in 2011-12 was 321,800, 16% fewer than in 2010-11. During the year there were, on average, 1.73 jurisdictional complaints per claim. The ratio has varied since 2006-7, but generally increased.
  • Of the 321,800 jurisdictional claims received in 2011-12, 31% were for Unfair dismissal, breach of contract and redundancy; 29% were concerning Working Time Regulations (largely airline cases that are resubmitted every three months), and 16% were for unauthorised deductions (Wages Act).
  • In 2011-12, employment tribunals disposed of 230,000 jurisdictional complaints, 6% fewer than in 2010-11. This fall was reflected in all jurisdictions except Disability Discrimination, Age Discrimination and Breach of Contract which had increases of 7%, 5% and 1% respectively.
  • At 31 March 2012, the workload outstanding for employment tribunals (i.e. claims awaiting resolution) was 540,800, as compared with 484,300 at 31st March 2011. The vast majority of those were multiple claims – 514,300 in all.

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

Many of the recent increases in women's employment levels have been in self-employment and involuntary part-time work, which poses a threat to their pay and job security, according to the TUC's latest economic report.

While male unemployment rose fastest during the first two years of the recession, female unemployment has risen more sharply in the last two years, mainly due to public sector job losses.

The report shows that the type of work women are doing has changed considerably since the recession. While the number of women in full-time employee jobs has fallen by 170,000, nearly 200,000 more women now describe themselves as being self-employed.

The poor pay associated with self-employment is shown by pay trends over the last decade. The median income of self-employed workers has fallen from £11,300 in 2001 to just £10,300 in 2010, even before allowing for inflation. The average income for employees has risen over the same period and is now nearly twice as high (£18,900).

Self-employed work is also less secure than an employee job, particularly if people are offered 'zero hours' contracts with no guaranteed work.

Despite high levels of female unemployment, the report also shows that the number of women in work is almost as high as before the recession. But this is because there are more women of working age - particularly as state pension age rises have been extending women's working age from 60 in 2010 to 66 in 2017. The number of women not working due to family and caring responsibilities - a figure that has been falling for the last 40 years - has also been unaffected by the recession.

Employment law reforms unveiled

Posted by on in Dismissal

The Government has published details of proposed employment law reforms relating to termination of employment and employment tribunals.

The proposals include:

  • the use of settlement agreements to help end employment relationships in a fair and consensual way. A consultation on how best to make this work in practice has already begun, and Acas has agreed to provide a new code of practice,
  • how it might reduce the cap on compensation for unfair dismissal claims,
  • proposals to streamline employment tribunals by making it easier for judges to dismiss weak cases,
  • responses to its call for evidence on the TUPE rules, when staff transfer to a new employer. Government has heard that businesses want this to be more efficient, and will consult on specific proposals before the end of the year, and
  • recommendations on how to improve guidance for small businesses on the Acas code of practice on discipline and grievance.

The Government also responded formally to the call for evidence on proposals for compensated no fault dismissal for micro-firms. Based on the evidence presented by business the Government will not be taking forward the proposal.

The Government is already delivering significant reforms of employment law, including extending the period for eligibility for unfair dismissal from one to two years, encouraging more effective ways to resolve disputes and thereby reduce the number of employment tribunals, creating a universally portable Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check and removing the default retirement age. The Government has considered, or is already taking forward, 80% of proposals from Adrian Beecroft’s report on employment law, published earlier this year.

New research from global insurer Zurich shows that over two thirds (70%) of British SME decision makers want the government to focus on cutting red tape. This ranks more highly than improving access to finance (54%) and reviewing employment legislation (36%) in the list of top three SME priorities.

This desire for cutting red tape rises to 76% amongst SMEs in the North of England and 74% in the Midlands. In London this figure is 60%, which while below average, still ranks as their top priority. Manufacturing SMEs put the greatest emphasis on the reduction of red tape (86%) with construction (75%) and financial services (67%) companies closely following.

When senior SME decision makers were asked to rank their top three regulatory challenges, employment regulations topped the list (37%), followed by health and safety (28%) and pensions (21%). The concern with employment regulations is also reiterated by the fact almost one in five (17%) small businesses view employment tribunals and legal proceedings as a top business threat.

Outsourcing is set to raise complex challenges for traditional employment relationships, according to workplace experts, Acas.

The past decade has seen a significant growth in organisational restructuring and the use of outsourcing across both the public and private sector. This looks set to continue and businesses will be managing groups of employees with different terms and conditions. Moreover, those employers further down the subcontracting chain are likely to have less control over the terms and conditions of their direct employees.

John Taylor, Acas Chief Executive said:

"Our perceptions of the traditional workplace relationship have changed. Employers and HR professionals need to take time to consider the impact of outsourcing on the 'new organisation' and plan ahead so that employment relations is thought about at every level."

More women on Europe's boards

Posted by on in Sex Discrimination

New research has found that greater numbers of women are joining the boards of Europe’s largest companies than ever before, and women now account for a third of all new board appointments in 2012.

The analysis, by Egon Zehnder International, the global executive search firm, has revealed an accelerating trend in the participation of women. The share of all board seats held by women has risen by 28% in the past two years to 15.6% (from 12.2% in 2010). This is equivalent to almost half of the total progress from the baseline set in Egon Zehnder’s first analysis in 2004, when only 8.0% of board seats were held by women.

The rapid increase in numbers of European companies with at least one woman on the board is equally impressive, rising to 86% by 2012: a 9% increase since 2010 (79%); and a 41% increase since 2004 when only 61% of all boards included a woman. If this trend continues at the current rate, women will be represented on the boards of all of Europe’s largest companies within the next two to four years and account for 25% of all board roles within the next five years.

However, there is concern that women are particularly under-represented in executive roles, which are often a stepping stone to non-executive board positions. Only one in twenty executive board positions (as opposed to one in six of all board positions) are today held by a woman – and there has been no progress since 2010.

Equally concerning is that despite women’s increasing representation on boards as a whole, the top board leadership roles remain out of reach. Just seven of 415 Chair roles across the companies surveyed were held by a woman, again with no progress since 2010. A key reason for the scarcity of women Chairs is that few women have sufficiently long and broad board experience. The analysis shows that women board members are on average almost five years younger than their male counterparts.

Norman Lamb, Minister for Employment Relations, has taken the step of naming an employer under the Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) Scheme for naming employers who flout National Minimum Wage (NMW) law.

The Leicester based hair and beauty salon owner neglected to pay £3,361.22 in arrears of the NMW to a former worker following an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), which has resulted in HMRC enforcing the debt through the court.

The Government is committed to deterring employers who would otherwise be tempted not to pay the NMW and recognises that bad publicity is an effective way of doing this. In future the Government will publicise cases where arrears of wages have to be enforced through the courts. HMRC already issues a press release where an employer has unsuccessfully appealed against a Notice of Underpayment requiring them to pay arrears of wages.

The BIS scheme to name employers who flout minimum wage law came into effect on 1st January 2011. The scheme is one of a range of tools at the Government’s disposal to tackle this issue. Employers who pay workers less than the minimum wage have to pay back arrears of wages at current minimum wage rates and face financial penalties of up to £5000. In the most serious cases employers can be prosecuted.

Nearly three quarters of people off work due to illness required adjustments in the workplace to help their return, an analysis of the Department for Work and Pensions Fit for Work Service pilots by Legal & General has shown.

Half of those who returned to work with support from the service reported changed hours of work, whilst two fifths also reported changed duties and reduced workloads.

The findings show that returning to work from illness is often possible but usually requires specialist adjustments and support.

A recent survey by Ernst & Young has found that the glass ceiling is dead as a concept for today’s modern career. Two thirds of women polled believe they faced multiple barriers throughout their careers, rather than just a single ceiling on entry to the boardroom.

Based on the results, Ernst & Young has identified four key barriers to career progression for today's working women. These barriers are: age, lack of role models, motherhood, and qualifications and experience.

Liz Bingham, Ernst & Young's managing partner for people, said: "The focus around gender diversity has increasingly been on representation in the boardroom and this is still very important.

"But the notion that there is a single glass-ceiling for women, as a working concept for today's modern career, is dead. Professional working women have told us they face multiple barriers on their rise to the top. As a result, British business is losing its best and brightest female talent from the pipeline before they have even had a chance to smash the glass ceiling. We recognise that in our own business, and in others, and professional women clearly experience it – that's what they have told us."

The survey identified age – perceived as either too young or too old – as being the biggest obstacle that women face during their careers. Around 32% of women questioned said it had impacted on their career progression to date, with an additional 27% saying that they thought it would inhibit their progression in the future.

Most markedly it was women in the early stages of their career that seemed to be most acutely impacted – with half of all respondents between 18 and 23 saying age had been a barrier they'd already encountered in their career.

Graduates believe that they have fewer job opportunities than five years ago, despite most companies continuing to offer graduate schemes.

Two thirds of graduates believe that significantly fewer schemes are on offer than in 2007 and three out of five say the majority of their classmates have been unable to secure a graduate job at all.

However, 85% of companies say that they have not cut back their graduate schemes in the last five years, and almost all (98%) report that their scheme is important to their organisation’s future.

Surprisingly, the research, by the Hay Group, shows that graduates are placing less importance on their overall earnings and benefits than last year, with less than one in ten (8%) stating that base salary is one of their top three considerations when applying for a job. This is in contrast to almost half (45%) in 2011.

In addition, just a year ago, more than a third of graduates considered bonus potential to be important, however this year the figure has fallen to just 7%.

Similarly, only 5% are now considering their pensions and healthcare options to be important, compared to 51% in 2011.

Instead, graduates now appear to be more interested in the ability to make a difference, with 51% considering this to be a key factor in their job choice, compared to just 4% last year.

The European Commission has agreed to give European social partners more time to complete their negotiations over reviewing the Working Time Directive.

László Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion said: "The social partners have my best wishes for a successful outcome to their talks on these very important issues. The Commission is willing to provide any support the social partners would find helpful in the context of these negotiations.''

The Commission consulted the European social partners during 2010 about possible changes to the Working Time Directive in order to update EU working time rules. The changes were felt necessary to take account of profound changes in the world of work and to better meet the needs of employers and workers in the 21st century.

The procedure for negotiations is provided in Articles 154 and 155 of the TFEU (Treaty on the Functioning of the EU). The social partners have nine months for their negotiations, but the period can be extended, if the employers' side, the workers' side and the Commission jointly decide to do so. In the case of the Working Time Directive, the social partners' negotiations began in early December 2011 and will now continue, under the extension of time just agreed, up to 31st December 2012.

The Working Time Directive entitles workers in all Member States to a number of rights with regards to their hours of work, including:

  • a limit to weekly working time, which must not exceed 48 hours on average, including any overtime,
  • paid annual leave, of at least four weeks per year, and
  • extra protection in the case of night work

There is scope for a certain degree of flexibility within these rules.

In response to the latest ONS labour market statistics, Gerwyn Davies, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)'s Labour Market Adviser, commented:

“In a continuation of recent trends, today’s official ONS employment figures appear to show yet another strong labour market performance.  However, a number of factors suggest that fault lines are emerging. For example, redundancy activity has picked up for the first time this year and there are record numbers of self employed and people working part time because they cannot find a full time job. There is also a continued increase in the number of people on government funded employment and training programmes.

“In addition, today's figures don’t reflect the lengths to which a significant number of employers are going to in order to hold on to skilled staff despite low levels of demand; as the CIPD reported in its quarterly Labour Market Outlook earlier this week. The continued fall in productivity and increase in unit labour costs will put more pressure on employers.”

UK businesses are being hindered by a lack of effective sickness absence management, despite over half (53%) of employers believing they’re well equipped to deal with long-term absence, according to a new Aviva report.

Aviva’s annual absence management report reveals the immediate impact an absent employee can have on the workplace if adequate support isn’t in place:

  • 40% of employers say someone else has to pick up the work,
  • 27% say productivity falls,
  • nearly a quarter (22%) believe it impacts the business financially, and
  • 21% say service standards suffer.

Furthermore, the report reveals that 17% of employers are seeing other members of staff go off sick when their colleagues are off long-term.
There is some evidence that employers understand the benefit of early intervention in sickness management, with one in five (20%) providing staff training to help them spot the signs of stress. However, over a third of employers (34%) still rely on employees to tell them when they are unwell.  

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