January 11, 2007

Managers fail to find useful information

Link: Managers fail to find useful information

Filed under: Business, Ecommerce, Employment by Brian Turner


A study by Accenture has found that company managers waste at least an hour every workday on useless information.

The study, which interviewed 1000 managers across the US and UK, found managers spend around 2 hours each day trying to find information - but at least half of what they find is “useless”.

Failures in communications include seeking information within the company, as well as searching for information outside of the company.

The study highlights the need for businesses of all sizes to have a good communications strategy in place.

This is especially as wrong information was frequently integrated into company practice, which could impact company efficiency, performance, and sales.

While some companies have naturally learned the need for effective communications managment, a key point is that managers have a responsibility to seek to manage information properly where found to be defective.

Overall, while companies may seek to delegate tasks and organisiational procedures according to known concerns, the effective management of information in an information-based world is fast becoming and overwhelming priority.

October 2, 2006

Minimum wage increases as age discrimination threat looms

Link: Minimum wage increases as age discrimination threat looms

Filed under: Business, Legal, Employment by Brian Turner


On Sunday the minimum wage was increased - while at the same time legislation came into force making it illegal to discriminate against workers according to age.

This sets up a serious problem because the minimum wage discriminates by age group - bringing it potentially into conflict with age discrimination legislation.

At present the minimum wage is awarded as follows:

    Age: 16-17, Wage: £3.30
    Age: 18-20, Wage: £4.45
    Age: 21+, Wage: £5.35

The rules against age discromination affect recruitment, training, promotion, redundancy, retirement, and pension provision - and especially pay.

One fear is that the new legislation will simply burden small business with extra costs. For example, health and insurance benefits must apply to age 65 which may result in higher premiums.

However, it is the potential conflict with the existing minimum wage that is most likely to cause controversy - and have employment lawyers wringing their hands.

Overall, it remains likely that the minimum wage’s natural discrimination according to age group will conflict with the new ageism legislation. While the UK government must surely have attempted to address it, ultimately the decisions on discrimination will rest with the EU, not UK, law courts.

September 13, 2006

UK breaking EU employment law

Link: UK breaking EU employment law

Filed under: Business, Legal, Employment by Brian Turner


The UK has been judged to be breaking EU employment law, for failing to ensure that workers have proper rest periods.

The case was brought by the European Commission in the European Court of Justice, after the UK was seen to be failing to enforce daily and weekly rest rules.

The rules involve a requirement to allow at least 11 hours before the end of one working day and the start of the next, plus 1 day with 11 hours at the weekend.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) had issued guidelines that were accused of encouraging non-compliance because they did not force employers to allow for these rest periods.

August 4, 2006

Interest rates rise on a weakening economy

Link: Interest rates rise on a weakening economy

Filed under: Economy, Business, Employment by Brian Turner


The Bank of England increased interest rates yesterday by a quarter percent, attempting to put the brakes on an economy overheating with inflation.

The move surprised many analysts, as it was expected that the Bank of England may leave any rate rise decisions until November.

The rise comes at a time when the UK economy continues to perform better than expected.

However, many uncertainties underpin the current growth cycle, not least above-target inflation, increasing unemployment, and mounting debts.

The UK banks have recently reported increased profits, but additionally warned that bad debt is eating into their profits.

This is especially as the numbers of insolvencies have increased sharply.

The overall picture is the UK is moving slowly into an economic downturn, with increasing unemployment with rising inflation a particular concern.

And while the housing market appears to be cooling, it appears to be increasingly as a part of the UK economy, rather than apart from it.

June 14, 2006

Unemployment and inflation haunt interest rates

Link: Unemployment and inflation haunt interest rates

Filed under: Economy, Business, Employment by Brian Turner


Warnings that UK interest rates would likely rise later in the year increased, after figures revealed a surge in both unemployment and inflation figures.

Unemployment increased to 5.3% for April. Ironically, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also showed an increase in the number of people employed.

The question is how can jobless figures and employment figures both rise at the same time?

While unemployment figures in themselves are unlikely to push at interest rates, inflation concerns will.

The ONS reported that energy prices pushed inflation to 2.2% - above the Bank of England’s 2% target.

However, bearing in mind the Bank of England’s past record of only closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, they are unlikely to step in with a timely increase in August, and may hold off any rate increases until November.

The trouble here is that if they opt to avoid a gentle pressing of the brake sooner, they may simply have to apply more force later.

And that’s more likely to hit the ordinary consumer harder.

June 2, 2006

Employment opt-out stalls at EU

Link: Employment opt-out stalls at EU

Filed under: Business, Employment by Brian Turner


Attempts to renegotiate an opt-out from the EU’s 48-hour working week have stalled.

Currently the EU has a directive that European workers should not have to work over 48 hours in a week.

Additionally, they should be entitled to 1 day off each week, with 11 days of assured holidays.

However, the UK is one of a small number of countries that demanded an opt-out clause when implemented, so that workers could be forced to work longer weeks if companies demanded it.

Austria had hoped to renegotiate the directive so that the UK would accept it, but the UK continues to demand that workers be allowed to work longer hours if they wish to.

Talks will continue after July under the presidency of Finland.

Although the UK’s position does have some support, what the UK government seems to completely fail to appreciate is that many low-income workers may be forced by their employers to work extra - or face losing their jobs.

So while the UK government tries on the one hand to implement poverty relief measures such as tax credits - it’s position on working practice leaves low income families forced to continue to work long hours across the week, destabilising the family home, and continue to foster the very underlying social problems it claims it is trying to address.

May 18, 2006

World economy faces inflation fears

Link: World economy faces inflation fears

Filed under: Economy, Business, Employment, Finance by Brian Turner


The world economy is finally showing cracks in confidence, as inflation continues to threaten while consumer spending continues to be lacklustre.

Over this week, stock markets around the world have seen big falls as investors turn bearish.

These fears are being raised as US consumer prices see a continued rise, highlighting fears that inflation will force the US Federal Reserve will bring in further interest rate hikes.

Concerns about the state of the UK economy have already been raised, and this week’s job totals showed a continued increase in unemployment - the highest since 2002.

The overall picture isn’t good - while the world economy has so far looked healthy, it has been very much powered by debt. Now the US government has been forced to increase it’s own debt limit to almost $9 trillion, and UK consumers have themselves amassed debts of over £1 trillion.

While energy prices continue to remain high, inflation is beginning to really bite. If economic conditions continue downwards, the real costs of government and consumer debt are in danger of being uncovered.

May 8, 2006

UK economy at downturn

Link: UK economy at downturn

Filed under: Economy, Business, Employment by Brian Turner



The UK economy faces a turning point, after a decade of growth trends across various indicators.

Key areas of weakness include a housing market that is over-valued, rising unemployment, and high energy prices.


It’s already been a frequent point of warning in global economic reports that the housing market is over-valued in many countries, and the UK has especially been indicated as dangerously over-valued, by groups such as the IMF.

Although the housing market has seen periodic spurts of growth over the past year, the general consensus is that the second-half will see property inflation go flat or even begin a process of deflation.

The property market has been an instrumental engine behind the consumer boom of the past few years, as homeowners took second mortgages out against their increased property value, encouraged by low rates from the Bank of England.

But now the UK housing market is both saturated and at a point of near exhaustion - and now very susceptible to any kind of adverse conditions.


Unemployment is traditionally seen as linked to consumer spending - with more people out of work, people have less money to spend on non-essential goods and items.

While the UK economy does currently show a strong labour market, it also shows that it’s cracking.

Hundreds of jobs are being axed by smaller companies, especially due to relocation or simming down on production, and large corporations such as NTL, Orange, and ICI have also announced that thousands of staff will go.

This is on top of a continuing NHS employment crisis that is seeing debt-ridden hospitals chase job cuts as a way to reduce running costs, with almost 10,000 job losses already announced, with more to come.

It looks likely that as economic factors become less favourable, we are going to see companies shedding jobs on an even larger scale, in an attempt to retain profitability in global markets.

Energy Prices

The rise in oil prices has been compounded by gas supply problems to the UK, resulting in energy bills facing a 40% increase over last year.

There are continued concerns that demand for oil now outstrips available supply, and that existing reserves cannot serve still growing markets in the West, China, and India.

Additional political tensions between Iran and the USA mean that unless a resolution is found, America could launch air-strikes on one of the most important oil producers in the work - an action that can only panic oil futures markets.

And, of course, high energy costs will serve as an engine to increase inflation - the absolute key danger factor that the Bank of England is focused on controlling.


Short-term surprises have kept the traditionally cautious and slow-reacting Bank of England even more guarded about further moves.

Current economic indicators continue to be mixed, and without a clear trend to follow, the BoE is maintaining a wait-and-see policy.

In the meantime, economic factors such as property, employment, and energy, are likely to be a key set of criteria to watch, as they directly influence consumer spending over the coming year.

These are all the more important because of the alarming amount of consumer debt that has powered recent prosperity - a debt that is already being paid in a sudden surge of bankruptcies.

However, the likelihood is that the boom days are over, and that an inevitable bust end of the economic cycle will demand its time.

While the cautious have been warning of an adverse economic future since 2003, it looks as if the economic realities are finally indicating the economic correction for the last decade’s prosperity is now on our doorstep.

The UK economy is finally showing up the fact we are now almost certainly at a crossing point - a downturn in economic conditions, prosperity, and growth.

April 28, 2006

Pension funds see huge deficits

Link: Pension funds see huge deficits

Filed under: Employment, Finance, Pensions by Brian Turner


The government’s Pensions Regulator has warned that Occupational Pension Schemes are failing - with deficits of up to £400 billion.

The regulatory highlights poor controls and planning, especially in smaller pension schemes, and is seeking active intervention in as many as 300 of them.

The news comes as yet another blow in the pensions crisis, which has at least in part been caused by government regulations intended to liberalise pension saving into the open market.

And while many people under 30 would ordinarily not consider it a matter of urgency to take out a pension, with the continued pension crisis in action, what most may be asking is why bother at all.

March 28, 2006

Pensions protests halt Britain

Link: Pensions protests halt Britain

Filed under: Economy, Employment, Political, Pensions by Brian Turner


Over 1 million Council Workers have gone on strike in the UK, bringing large parts of local government to a halt.

The strike is over protests to back-date new pension rules, which will prevent any council worker from retiring on a full-pension at age 60.

It comes at a time when pension funds are in crisis - the government claims it cannot make up for shortfalls in public funds.

However, critics point out that the government has no problems finding £5 billion to fund the War in Iraq, or disposing of the extra £10 billion in tax revenues Gordon Brown collected in January.

The Labour Government has also managed to increase non-direct taxes since first coming to power, and has been able to borrow extensively to fund public projects, rather than address current economic holes.

A recent Public Relations exercise last week saw the government attempted to bombard ordinary people with “facts” and “figures”, in order to justify government unwillingness to deal with the issue properly.

It remains a national disgrace that the UK seeks to work people harder, for longer, for less reward - only to treat them after as second class citizens.

March 16, 2006

Retail sales continues weakness

Link: Retail sales continues weakness

Filed under: Economy, Business, Ecommerce, Employment, Property Market by Brian Turner


Retail sales saw another fall last month according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), continuing a trend in weak consumer spending.

In a year-on-year comparison, retail sales were down 0.9% on the same period in 2005.

The figures also co-incide with a slight rise in unemployment, and could finally signal the first real signs of a reverse in the economy.

Poor consumer spending with rising unemployment are going to put pressure on the Bank of England to lower interest rates.

The trouble there is that in doing so, the brakes will come off the UK housing market.

This could only lead to continued enlargement of what has almost certainly become an unsustainable investment bubble, resulting in further - and more difficult problems - in the mear to mid-term.

Conversely, inflation due to energy prices, plus slow but steady increases in earnings, are both going to create antigonistic pressures for a rise in interest rates.

Although market expectation has been that interest rates may be cut later in the year, around the summer and autumn, the Bank of England (as ever) will try to be slow to react after ponderously observing general trends before attempting to make safe decisions.

September 30, 2005

Minimum wage increases

Link: Minimum wage increases

Filed under: Employment by Brian Turner


The minimum wage will increase on 1 October, benefiting over one million workers. The new minimum rate for adults will be £5.05 an hour, up from £4.85. The minimum rate for 18 to 21 year olds will increase by 15p to £4.25.

The increase follows a report from the Low Pay Commission, which said the number of jobs had grown since the minimum wage was introduced in 1999.

Trade unions welcomed the increase. Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary said: “The increase will see well over a million low-paid workers with more cash in their pockets, many of them women working part-time.”

Further increases to the minimum wage are planned. In February, the government provisionally accepted the Low Pay Commission’s recommendations that the rates should be further increased, to £5.35 and £4.45 in October 2006. This increase depends on a further report by the commission in early 2006, on whether a further rise is sustainable in the prevailing economic climate.

Business leaders are asking for an urgent reappraisal of planned future increases to the minimum wage.

Lewis Sidnick, employment policy adviser at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said: “When the wage was introduced it was set at a reasonable level but since we have seen large increases.” He continued: “The government needs to recognise that the economy is worsening, while business costs are rising”.

September 14, 2005

Unemployment continues to rise

Link: Unemployment continues to rise

Filed under: Employment by brian_turner


Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that the number of people unemployed increased by 12,000 to 1.42 million in the quarter to August, the seventh consecutive monthly rise. The number of people claiming benefit increased 1,600 to 866,200 last month. Average job vacancies in the three months to August fell 7,400 to 631,700.

The level of unemployment has gradually increased this year, as a slowdown in consumer spending has adversely affected retailers and other service sector firms. According to the ONS, the number of people claiming benefit was 52,400 higher in August than in January. Jobless rates have risen every month this year - the longest continuous period of increase for 13 years.

Despite this, employment levels remain higher than at any time since comparable records began in 1971.

In the three months to the end of July, 28.73 million people, or 74.8% of the working age population, were employed. This is 315,000 more than at the same time last year.

However, annual growth in average earnings has slowed slightly. Excluding bonuses, average salaries increased by 3.9% in July, compared with a 4% increase in June. Taking bonuses into account, earnings growth increased from 4.1% to 4.2%.

According to economists, the figures indicate that the labour market is stabilising after signs of weakness earlier this year.

September 12, 2005

TUC calls for actions on pensions crisis

Link: TUC calls for actions on pensions crisis

Filed under: Employment, Pensions by brian_turner


Brendan Barber, the head of the TUC, has called on the government to make employers act on an imminent pension crisis in Britain.

Prior to the TUC’s annual conference in Brighton, Mr Barber said that just one in 10 employees would be in an occupational scheme by 2025.

He said “Voluntarism or even expensive incentives will not work - compulsion must be introduced”.

While Mr Barber praised ministers for setting up the Pensions Commission, he said “Only radical solutions can work, and ministers must start preparing the ground now for the big changes that are required”.

Mr Barber claimed that 400 top directors in the UK share pension assets of £1 billion.

“The damning evidence that we have published showing just how little boardrooms have shared in pensions sacrifices should mean that they speak with no moral authority on this debate,” he said.

September 6, 2005

DTI claims working hours reduced in modernised workplace

Link: DTI claims working hours reduced in modernised workplace

Filed under: Employment by brian_turner


A report by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) claims that working hours could be reduced if UK companies modernised their working practices. The report is supported by both the TUC and the CBI.

It highlights major companies, including BT, Accenture, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Eversheds, which have already introduced practices including job sharing and flexi-time to improve shift patterns and productivity. In these companies, better working practices had led to enhanced customer service, better retention of skilled staff and improved morale.

The report emphasises that staff should be are involved in consultation about changes to working practices.

Employment Minister Gerry Sutcliffe said: “Creating a culture where we work smarter rather than longer is key to improving worker satisfaction, as well as improving competitiveness, productivity and retaining skilled workers”.

The CBI said the report showed that better working practices could lead to a reduction in absenteeism.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “Unions do believe in proper regulation - but this initiative shows workplaces can do even better when managers and employees work together.”

However, the TUC also said that the government should back an EU directive limiting the working week to 48 hours. Ministers want to maintain the opt-out, believing a flexible workforce is more competitive.

September 2, 2005

Engineering group calls for compulsory pensions contributions

Link: Engineering group calls for compulsory pensions contributions

Filed under: Employment, Pensions by brian_turner


The Engineering Employers Federation has suggested that some pension contributions should be made compulsory for both employers and their staff. It is the first significant business organisation to demand that compulsion be introduced.

The organisation submitted a plan for a number of pension reforms to the Pensions Commission. Its proposes that employers and individuals should both be required to contribute a minimum 40% of income into a national scheme of investment funds.

The EEF’s plans also include an enhanced state pension system that would provide at least 21% of national average earnings at the age of 65. The proposals have been costed by the Pensions Policy Institute.

Other business organisations, including the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce have opposed compulsion in the past, saying it would lead to higher costs for employers.

Alan Wood, president of the EEF said: “It’s something that has to be faced up to. We do need to start planning now for a better system for the future.”

The Pensions Commission is scheduled to publish its second report, with policy recommendations, by the end of November.

August 30, 2005

Government workers may strike on pension plans

Link: Government workers may strike on pension plans

Filed under: Employment, Pensions by brian_turner


Local government workers may strike this autumn, in protest at government plans to raise the retirement age of public sector workers from 60 to 65. The planned increase in pensionable age is part of a strategy to deal with increasing pension costs. It is estimated that there is a £29bn deficit in the local government pension scheme, due partly to the fact that people are living longer and therefore claim pensions over a longer period.

Malcolm Wing, chief negotiation of Unison, the public sector union, said they would “strongly resist” any compulsory increase in the retirement age.

Discussions are taking place between Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, local government employers and unions on how to address the pension shortfall.

The annual meeting of the TUC will take place in Brighton in the week beginning 12 September. Ministers and union negotiators will meet on 21 September, immediately before the Labour Party conference.

According to the Financial Times, Trade Secretary Alan Johnson is prepared to delay the increase in the retirement age, scheduled for 2013, for a “few years”. However, a DTI spokeswoman said that the details had not been decided and there was a “general acceptance by all parties that things have got to change”.

Mr Wing argued that many public sector workers already choose to continue to work after the age of 60 and said that this flexibility should be preserved.

Payfinder states gender pay gap continues

Link: Payfinder states gender pay gap continues

Filed under: Employment by brian_turner


Research by salary comparison site, PayFinder, suggests that female British workers earn on average 27% less than male co-workers. The largest gap in wages was in London, where men earned an average of £39,022 and women 35% less at £28,833.

PayFinder’s report was based on data given to the site by approximately 40,000 workers between August 2004 and 2005. The company’s 2004 report showed that men earned an average 24% more than women.

According to Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures for 2004, men who had had full-time jobs with the same employer for a year or longer had average gross annual earnings of £24,236. The figure for women was approximately 24% less at £18,531.

CJ Brough, a spokeswoman for Payfinder said: “Invariably discrepancies in salary are explained via a difference in ability, which in turn is based on skill set and experience.”
“Before anyone cites female job choice as a possible cause, PayFinder also shows that regardless of industry and indeed role, men still earn more than women.”

Ms Brough said the report highlighted that sex discrimination was still prevalent in the workplace. However, she said that previous research by PayFinder found that 66% of women were too scared to ask for a pay rise, compared to 24% of men.

Research by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), released in March, suggested that women earned 14% less than men partly because they do not have enough maths and science qualifications. It said that schools should provide better career advice to encourage girls to aim for higher paid careers.

August 25, 2005

TUC calls for less standing in the workplace

Link: TUC calls for less standing in the workplace

Filed under: Employment by brian_turner


Standing up at work for long periods can damage workers’ health, according to the TUC. Standing for too long contributes to 200,000 workers with leg ailments being off sick for two million days a year. Problems caused by standing for long periods include varicose veins, swelling of the legs and feet, joint damage and circulatory problems.

The TUC believes that there is a tendency for employers to assume that staff are not working properly if they are sitting down. It claims that problems caused by standing are as prevalent as they were in Victorian times, when doctors campaigned for shop workers to be provided with seats.

Hugh Robertson, a health and safety specialist at the TUC said that although many people experience discomfort from standing all day, not many of them realise that it can contribute to a major illness or injury.

The TUC also said that the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) was not properly enforcing the 1992 Welfare Regulations, which say that employers should provide suitable seats where work, or part of it, can be done sitting.

Since these regulations were introduced there have been only 5 enforcement notices issued and no prosecutions.

August 24, 2005

S2P pension opt-outs may have lost out

Link: S2P pension opt-outs may have lost out

Filed under: Employment, Pensions by brian_turner


The Financial Services Authority (FSA) has warned that people who contracted out of the state second pension (S2P) and paid money into a personal scheme, may receive a pension on average £4 a week smaller than those who stayed put.

Three million people have chosen to opt out of S2P, or its predecessor SERPS, and pay cash into their personal pension instead. Financial advisers widely promoted opting out as a way of increasing retirement wealth, but concern has been growing that this advice was wrong.

Last year, insurance company Norwich Union advised its pension savers to opt back into the S2P scheme.

The FSA investigation found that the effects of opting out depended on when individuals had opted out, how long they were contracted out for, their age, and the performance and charges of the personal pension scheme they then chose.

According to the FSA, people who contracted out in 1988, the first year that this was possible, can now expect a pension on average £4 smaller than if they had chosen to remain in SERPS. SERPS became the S2P in 2002.

However, people who contracted out for a five year period and then opted back in would on average be approximately £2 a week worse off.

The FSA will investigate if mis-selling has occurred, but said that relatively few complaints about mis-selling had been made to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

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