Minister backs campaign to give HR voice in Europe

first_img Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Minister backs campaign to give HR voice in EuropeOn 3 Dec 2002 in Personnel Today The CIPD and the HR profession as a whole must strive to have a strongervoice in Europe over forthcoming employment legislation, says EmploymentRelations Minister Alan Johnson. Johnson told Personnel Today that UK business – and HR in particular –neglects its responsibilities in helping to shape European employmentdirectives that often have a significant impact on employment practices in thiscountry. He urged HR to become more proactive on the European stage instead ofwaiting until directives are incorporated in UK law before getting involved. “It [the HR profession] could do more in Europe. I have got thisfeeling that business in Britain does not punch its weight in Europe. Theagenda is there in Europe and whether we like it or not, it is not going to goaway,” Johnson said. “Trade unions are very effective in arguing their case in Europe.Politicians are certainly very effective. Whether business is as effective isquestionable, especially whether the HR part of business is getting its voiceheard.” Johnson welcomed the groundbreaking study by Personnel Today and theEmployment Lawyers Association which gives UK-based HR professionals theopportunity to influence the European Commission on the Working Time Directive.Launched in Personnel Today last week, the survey results will be fed backto the EC which is considering removing the UK’s opt-out provision, that allowsstaff to choose to work longer than 48 hours a week. “In the current climate the scrapping of the opt-out would be very damagingfor productivity I am sure about that,” Johnson said. “The opt-out is good,” he said. “It’s a good balance forindividuals to have the right to work more than 48 hours, but not be forcedto.” He cited the drafting of the Agency Workers Directive – which will givetemporary staff the same employment rights as permanent staff from day one – asan example where HR could have played a more active role. Employers are concerned the temps directive would threaten thecompetitiveness of UK firms through increasing red tape and staffing costs. Andthe CBI estimates it could lead to up to 300,000 temporary jobs being cut. “This is an issue where British business should be heard, it should notalways be the Government. Our role is important but so is the business case.The channels are there for consultation and are an important influence on theEuropean Commission, Parliament and Council of Ministers,” he said. Johnson believes HR has an opportunity to make its voice heard in businessnext year when the Employment Act comes into force, giving staff the right torequest flexible working. He warned employers that if they do not fully embrace voluntary flexibleworking rights for staff the Government might consider introducing legislationto give employees statutory rights following a review of the Act in 2006. “It [HR] might like to suggest [to its companies] that if they look atthese issues as burdens on business then they are looking at them through thewrong end of the telescope. Actually what it is all about is improving businessperformance and HR managers could make that case more effectively,” hesaid. Johnson is optimistic that other proposals in the Employment Act, toencourage employers and staff to use statutory grievance procedures beforemaking an application to employment tribunal, will lead to a reduction of about30,000 tribunal cases a year. He does believe HR is taken more seriously by business than in the past, butwarns the profession it must strive even harder for central billing in the boardroom,particularly in the current difficult economic climate. “There is still room for improvement in how seriously HR is taken bybusiness,” he said. “Lots of companies had HR directors on the boardin the past, but they were cut back in the 1980s and early ’90s when theremight have been a feeling that they where not necessary. But they [HR directorson the board] are certainly necessary now.” He hinted that a name change for the profession might help HR achieve itsgoal of becoming a strategic business partner. “Human resources’ is as if humans are there as a resource. The termrankles with me and people can be quite sarcastic. I think personnel is a bitbetter,” he said. [email protected] Johnson hits backEmployment relations minister AlanJohnson rejected suggestions that the UK is in the midst of an industrialrelations crisis, despite the problems of trying to resolve the firefighters’dispute.He said there will be just over one million working days lostto strikes this year compared to eight million working days lost on averageevery year during the 1980s and 13 million in the 1970s.Johnson, who refused to discuss the firefighters’ dispute,said: “It [industrial relations] is not as good as it could be, but it isnot as bad as it is being painted. There is no turmoil on the streets, nowinter or summer of discontent. It is lazy journalism to suggest that there is.”Strike banJohnson refused to rule out banning essential services stafffrom industrial action following a year of high-profile strike action in thepublic services and transport sectors.He did, however, dismiss a suggestion by the business researchand consultancy organisation, The Work Foundation, which called for compulsoryarbitration in disputes involving essential public services.The minister is also opposed to Conservative proposals tochange union balloting laws – forcing 50 per cent of membership to vote infavour of industrial action instead of 50 per cent of the ballot. The firefighters are currently in a bitter long-term industrialdispute over their claim for a 40 per cent wage hike to take starting salariesto £30,000 a year.Talks aimed at resolving the dispute broke down at the lastminute because they were not tied to changes in working practices such astraining fire brigade staff as paramedics.London Underground staff were also balloted on strike actionlast week after the company sent home employees without pay who refused to workduring the fire strike because of safety concerns.In addition, London-based local government workers downed toolslast week over a £4,000-a-year London Weighting claim.   Other disputes over the past 12 months have included anationwide strike by local government staff as well industrial action byfurther education staff, benefit agency workers, London Underground employeesand staff working for train operators South West Trains and Arriva TrainsNorthern. Related posts:No related photos.last_img

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