September news in brief: Government reveals plans for employer-led school diplomas

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Briefcase

Government reveals plans for employer-led school diplomas
The first five subjects for the proposed school diplomas which can be taken instead of GCSEs or A Levels have been announced by the Government.

From 2008, pupils will be able to take diplomas in construction and the built environment, IT, creative and media, health and social care, and engineering. By 2013 a total of 14 subjects will be available.

The diplomas, a result of a partnership between educators, employers and universities, all include generic learning including English, maths and IT user skills plus specialist learning in the core subject.

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Homophobia in the workplace alive and well warns TUC
Despite changes in legislation which make it an offence to harass someone on the grounds of their sexual orientation, four out of ten homosexuals say they have been abused in the workplace, according to the TUC.

Addressing the TUC's annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Conference, general secretary Brendan Barber said: “Unfortunately, while the legal framework may have changed beyond recognition, we’ve yet to see a parallel shift in social attitudes. For the most part we appear to live in a largely liberal, tolerant society - but scratch beneath the surface, and homophobia is alive and well.”

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Closure of final salary schemes set to accelerate
The number of employers closing their final salary pension schemes to all staff – not just new starters – is set to accelerate over the next three years according to a new report.

Aon Consulting said a survey of 115 companies found that a fifth of companies with open schemes were considering closing them in the next 12 months and a further four in 10 plan to do so in the next three years.

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Another union in trouble over equal pay deals
As the GMB gets set to appeal the Middlesborough Borough Council decision, another union has found itself in trouble over its approach to equal pay settlements.

Unison is facing 900 claims, many via no-win, no-fee solicitors, from women who feel they have been short-changed. Following the ruling in the GMB case, Unison cancelled a conference debate on equal pay for fear that comments made could land it in legal hot water.

Personnel Today reports the TUC regards the cases as pivotal, fearing they could damage the foundations of UK industrial relations.

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Pay awards stabilise at three per cent
The Industrial Relations Services’ headline measure of pay awards indicates that over the quarter ending May 2006, pay increases have stabilised at three per cent.

During the quarter, IRS researchers collected details of 181 pay awards, of which 124 include an identifiable increase in basic pay. The research confirms the continuing importance of the three per cent pay benchmark, with exactly a quarter of pay awards worth that amount.

The research suggests a bunching of pay awards around the three per cent level as the upper quartile pay award – the point at or above which a quarter of all pay deals lie – also stands at three per cent.

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Let's (not) go outside
The Government is considering extending the workplace smoking ban, which is due to come into force next summer, to office doorways.

It is proposed that the ban would extend to outdoor spaces if there is a ‘significant risk’ that people would be exposed to ‘significant quantities of smoke’.

At the moment, it is thought that any outdoor ban would only come into force after it was seen how the enclosed space ban worked.

But with fines of up to £2,500 for failing to display no-smoking signs or for not stopping people from lighting up, employers are being urged to consider their smoking policies.

One difficulty which may arise is that the government is still consulting over the legal definition of an enclosed space.

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EOC urges government to bring in new parental leave rights
Following publication of research that reveals more men are playing an active role in their children’s upbringing than ever before, the Equal Opportunities Commission is urging the government to bring in new Additional Paternity Leave rights.

Consultation has already taken place on the proposals which include allowing a father to take paid paternity leave if his partner cuts short her maternity leave. The EOC’s research shows that this new additional parental leave is very popular amongst new fathers, with over seven in ten keen to use it.

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Dry cleaning and shoe shines latest on the incentives list
In an industry with more vacancies than skilled employees anything that attracts and retains is pounced on.

Reuters is reporting that the banking industry is in such a situation and, along with flexible working and back-to-work bonuses for returning mothers, dry cleaning and shoe shines have been added to the list of incentives.

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Union gives equal pay ultimatum
Amicus has told the finance industry to get its equal pay house in order during the next six months – or it will start naming and shaming.

The union points out that women make up the 55 per cent of staff working in financial services yet, on average, earn 41 per cent less than men.

Companies which have already undertaken pay audits have found that occupational segregation is a major cause of the gender pay gap with the under representation of women in management and certain occupations within the sector.

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Ministers scrap sick pay changes
Plans to overturn sick pay regulations by requiring employers to provide benefits to staff from the first day of their illness are to be scrapped by the government, according to press reports.

The 'Financial Times' said work and pensions minister John Hutton will announce that proposals to simplify sick pay rules will be dropped because they would be too expensive to employers.

The changes had formed the backbone of the government's green paper on welfare reform published in January. They were put forward as a way of reducing the number of people who fall out of the labour market due to illness and then remain on state benefits struggling to find another job.

Employers are currently obliged to pay workers after three days of absence due to sickness.
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Bumps to babies
Businesslink has launched a new online interactive tool covering maternity in the workplace to help small businesses understand their obligations and employee entitlements.

Research by the Equal Opportunities Commission indicates that half the respondents felt managers didn’t understand how to manage pregnancy in the workplace. Businesslink’s guide aims to help.

Users are guided through a series of questions which aim to provide help on a range of issues including maternity pay, leave and flexible working.

The interactive questionnaire can be found at: Business link

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Recruiting online could save NHS £80 million
The NHS Institute for Improvement and Development’s first report reveals that if all NHS recruitment was done electronically via NHS Jobs £80 million a year could be saved through reductions in recruitment advertising spend, administration and temporary staffing costs.

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Training Bonus for Firms
Organisations that employ under 50 people can now apply for the wage compensation programme of the Learning and Skills Council’s Train to Gain scheme.

The Treasury has set aside £76 million over the next two years to fund the programme which will enable employers to reclaim the wages (minus deductions such as National Insurance) for employees on work-time training schemes.

Train to Gain is aimed at increasing employees’ literacy and numeracy skills, as well as ensuring they can use a computer. The wage compensation programme offers free training up to a Level 2 NVQ qualification, provided employees do not already possess five GCSEs at grades A-C.

There is also a funded programme which offers help with Level 3 NVQs, apprenticeships and higher education.

For more information go to: Train to gain

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Stats show public sector most affected by strikes
Office of National Statistics figures reveal that the public sector lost more working days due to strikes than the private sector last year but the private sector had a greater number of disputes.

Overall the public sector accounted for 63 per cent of working days lost through industrial action last year due to the greater numbers of workers taking part.

But 2005 saw the lowest number of days lost (158,000) to industrial action in both sectors since records began in 1998.

John Philpott, chief economist at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said the public sector difficulties were caused by being larger organisations with a stronger union presence, centralised employee relations systems and pressure to deliver the Gershon efficiency savings.

He added that the data indicated there was more to good employment relations than improvements in job prospects and pay conditions alone.

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Chancellor calls for local pay deals
As part of the country’s approach to globalisation, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown has told business leaders that there should be more flexibility in pay negotiations through local or regional deals.

During the speech at the CBI president’s dinner, he also said that he wanted to limit public sector pay increases for the next two years.

The Chancellor said: “Your companies and our country are in the midst of the biggest global industrial and economic restructuring the world has ever seen: the replacement of national flows of capital by global flows of capital, the national and continental sourcing of goods and services by global sourcing of goods and services.

“The paradox of today’s globalisation is that even its winners feel themselves to be losers. People who are benefiting from cheaper clothes, cheaper electronics goods still think of globalisation as job losses.”

He warned that increasing protectionism by countries could bring about the kind of world-wide depression seen in the 1930s.

"Unless we can explain that the same globalisation that is seeing the loss of old jobs can create new and better jobs; unless we can show the same globalisation that sees jobs sent offshore can see more jobs created onshore; unless we can illustrate how the same globalisation that is forcing displacement of labour is also opening up new opportunities for millions; then people will see globalisation as a recipe for insecurity not the potential prosperity we know it to be," he added.

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Are you making the most of your temps?
UK businesses are failing to make the most of temporary staff according to a new survey by recruitment consultants Angela Mortimer plc.

The survey of 100 temps and 100 organisations revealed that a whopping 88 per cent of temporary workers felt the organisations employing them were failing to use their skills fully.

And more than 60 per cent of both temps and businesses agreed that temps were as qualified or more qualified than permanent staff. Most temps were used as short-term cover for holidays or specific projects with only 10 per cent of organisations using them with a view to offering a future permanent contract.

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Stalemate on working time directive opt-out
Ministers from across Europe failed to reach agreement yesterday on whether countries taking advantage of the Working Time Directive’s opt-out clause can continue to do so after 2010.

Negotiating time has now run out under the Austrian presidency, so the issue has been shelved until Finland takes over the presidency in July.

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Stalemate on working time directive opt-out
Ministers from across Europe failed to reach agreement yesterday on whether countries taking advantage of the Working Time Directive’s opt-out clause can continue to do so after 2010.

Negotiating time has now run out under the Austrian presidency, so the issue has been shelved until Finland takes over the presidency in July.

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Europe to highlight equal opps in 2007
The EU has announced that 2007 will be designated the ‘European Year of Equal Opportunities for All’.

A budget of €15 million has been set aside for an information campaign and activities to promote the four themes of: rights, representation, recognition and respect.

The 2007 European year will focus on discrimination linked to gender, race or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. Much of the British legislation in these areas comes from EU Directives.

Further information can be found at: Social equality 2007

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Talks on working time directive shelved
Talks to secure a new opt-out deal for Britain from the Working Time Directive have been shelved after ministers failed to agree on a solution.

The EU Directive ensures a 48-hour working week – but in Britain workers are able to opt out and work longer if they wish. Britain wants to hang onto the deal but a group of countries, including France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Cyprus want an end to the opt out clause.

Austria, which currently holds the EU presidency, has offered a compromise deal which would allow Britain to opt out of a 48-hour working week but would set a limit of 65 hours.

It also proposes that the opt out should be renewable annually with companies having to explain to their workers why they are required to work long hours. In addition, there should be a cooling off period of one month for any new joiner in which they could change their mind about agreeing to opt out.

EU employment commissioner Vladimir Spidla also wants to change the Directive’s wording to make it clear that the opt-out is the exception and the 48-hour week is the rule – but he is prepared to let Britain keep the opt-out indefinitely if those conditions are met.

According to the FT Britain’s trade and industry secretary Alistair Darling is happy to strike a deal providing he can obtain a ‘legally watertight opt-out’ as it will end the uncertainty over the length of time Britain can keep the opt-out. But the opposing countries are not happy with the deal.

Talks will continue when Finland take over the EU presidency in July.

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Class of 2006 - will they graduate?
University lecturers’ unions have rejected the latest pay offer of 13.1% over three years.

In the worst-affected institutions the class of 2006 will not graduate.

Some institutions have proposed allowing students to graduate by substituting course marks for examinations and others are to have scripts marked by one examiner rather than two.

But will the class of 2006 will always have a question mark hanging over the quality of their degrees?

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