Businesses & Unions Call for Urgency over Brexit

Businesses & Unions Call for Urgency over Brexit
Business and union leaders from across the UK and Europe have joined together to plead for “pace and urgency” in Brexit negotiations. The CBI and the TUC along with their European counterparts are calling on the UK government and the European Union to make “measureable progress”.

UK and EU leaders will attend a European Council meeting this week.

The groups say the UK and the EU must “put economic interests and people’s jobs, rights and livelihoods first”.

The CBI, BusinessEurope, the TUC and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) collectively represent 45 million workers and 20 million employers across the EU.

In a joint statement, they said: “We are calling on the UK government and the EU to inject pace and urgency in the negotiations, bringing about measurable progress, in particular a backstop arrangement to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

“Decisions will be needed in June and October to finalise the withdrawal agreement and the transitional arrangement, and put economic interests and people’s jobs, rights and livelihoods first.”

UK Prime Minister Theresa May will attend the European Council meeting on 28-29 June. However, she will be excluded from a gathering of the other 27 EU nations where chief negotiator Michel Barnier will provide on update on Brexit talks.

Carolyn Fairbairn and Markus Beyrer, the director-generals of the CBI and BusinessEurope respectively, as well as Luca Visentini and Frances O’Grady, the general secretaries of the ETUC and the TUC, met earlier this month in London to discuss Brexit.

Ahead of the European Council meeting they said: “The UK government and the EU will need to agree on all aspects of regulatory alignment, which is of the utmost importance, without jeopardising the integrity of the single market.”

A spokesman for the UK government said: “We absolutely agree. That’s why we have put forward workable proposals to the EU on a range of areas from the backstop to security, and the White Paper – which will be published after June Council – will continue to drive this process forward.

“We are confident that we can make progress if both the EU and UK engage constructively.”

 

Getting the Right Insurance for your Business

Getting the Right Insurance for your Business
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Contact Weir Insurance Brokers
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Apple Is Optimistic’ about Post Brexit UK

Apple Is Optimistic’ about Post Brexit UK
Technology giant Apple is “very optimistic” about the UK’s future post-Brexit, its boss has told the prime minister. Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook met Theresa May at Downing Street and said he thought the UK would be “just fine”‘ outside the European Union.

The company plans to build a new UK headquarters in London.

His comments came as the US Chamber of Commerce said US firms had been delaying UK investment decisions. It has thousands of members in the US, including many large multinationals.

Its head of international affairs, Myron Brilliant, told the BBC firms were worried about future trade rules. He said they thought there could be new regulatory challenges once the UK was no longer in the EU.  However, at his meeting with the prime minister, Mr Cook said:”We’re a big believer in the UK – we think you’ll be just fine. “Yes there will be bumps in the road along the way but the UK’s going to be fine.”
In a statement following the meeting, Apple said: “We are proud that Apple’s innovation and growth now supports nearly 300,000 jobs across the UK. ”

Apple’s new UK headquarters will be in the redeveloped Battersea Power Station. Last year the company said it would move 1,600 staff there in 2021.

Mr Cook described it as a huge headquarters and said the company was “leaving significant space there to expand.”

Earlier the US Chamber of Commerce’s Mr Brilliant told BBC Radio 5 live’s Wake Up To Money: “They’re [US firms] worried about what the transition rules are going to look like.

“They’re worried about whether there are going to be new regulatory challenges, impediments, and so we’re going to see how that plays out over the next two years. One also expects that the UK-EU will have a trade agreement. But what we’re saying from Washington is that we’re going to be vested stakeholders, as we have been in terms of our businesses here.”

He added: “Of course, some companies are holding back investment to see how this plays out. That makes sense. But there is no question that Europe is an important part of any company’s international strategy. And so it’s not that they’re going to pull back from Europe, but they are going to realign their investments, depending on how these negotiations go.”

 

Fine Firms for Sexist Dress Rules, say MPs

Fine Firms for Sexist Dress Rules, say MPs
The government must enforce the law properly to ban sexist dress rules at work that discriminate against women, say MPs. The demand has come from two parliamentary committees, for Petitions and for Women and Equalities.

Their report follows the experience of London receptionist Nicola Thorp, who was sent home from work in December 2015 for not wearing high heels. Her parliamentary petition on the issue gained more than 150,000 signatures.

The joint report of the two committees, entitled High Heels and Workplace Dress Codes, found that the Equality Act 2010 should ban discriminatory dress rules at work, but in practice the law is not applied properly to protect workers of either gender.

Helen Jones, MP, chair of the Petitions Committee, said: “The government has said that the way that Nicola Thorp was treated by her employer is against the law, but that didn’t stop her being sent home from work without pay. It’s clear from the stories we’ve heard from members of the public that Nicola’s story is far from unique,” she added.

The problem was exposed when Ms Thorp was sent home from her job at a London office of the big accountancy firm PwC. She refused to obey the then rules of her employment agency, Portico, that she should wear shoes with heels that were between two and four inches high. Read More.

Security Qualifications Fraud ‘Public Safety Risk’

Security Qualifications Fraud ‘Public Safety Risk’
The head of an exam board is warning that undetected qualifications fraud in the security industry is becoming a “risk to public safety”. Raymond Clarke, chief executive of Industry Qualifications, is calling for tougher scrutiny to prevent fraud in workplace qualifications. And when it applies to security staff, he says, such fraud is a “significant threat to public safety and wellbeing”.

Exam watchdog Ofqual said it had “a number of ongoing investigations”.

Mr Clarke says regulation is more focused on trying to prevent academic malpractice, but it is not adequately equipped to take on systematic, deliberate fraud. He says he is speaking out because of “frustration” at the lack of effective monitoring – and because qualifications fraud is “more widespread than we might like to believe”. He is calling for an expert panel to be set up to try to establish the extent of qualifications fraud, particularly in areas of security and public risk.

This could be in jobs such as security guards or door supervisors.

Such fraud could be falsifying course work or test answers, by individuals or colleges or training centres, to allow people to dishonestly gain qualifications needed for work. And it could mean unsuitable or untrained staff being put into positions where safety would be compromised.

“In an age tragically marked by terrorist atrocities, we need to know that those charged with keeping us safe are appropriately trained and qualified through a rigorous system of assessment and accreditation,” says a statement from the Industry Qualifications awarding body.

But at present, Mr Clarke says, there is insufficient gathering of information and record-keeping about fraud and inadequate efforts to pursue those responsible. And he fears that when fraud is caught in one part of the education sector or type of qualification, it moves to another. “If you lift the carpet, there’s a lot going on under it,” he said.

Mr Clarke’s own awarding body was caught up in a case of fraud exposed by the BBC, when a college was found to be helping students to gain its qualifications fraudulently.

Undercover researchers found colleges that would sit or forge exams for a fee, for students wanting to get qualifications needed for a Security Industry Authority card.

But Mr Clarke says that the “worrying fact” is that people involved in such frauds “could still be active in the delivery of regulated qualifications elsewhere – nobody knows”. He warns that for awarding bodies there is insufficient up-to-date information to alert them of fraudulent activity. He is calling for better co-ordination with the police and ways to prevent fraudsters from returning to the education sector. “A failure to confront the issue serves the interests of nobody other than the fraudsters,” says Mr Clarke.

There has been a long history of fraud at the edges of the education and qualifications system – and Mr Clarke says there has been insufficient effort to root this out.

“Bogus colleges” have operated as a front for getting visas for overseas students, and earlier this month more than 40 websites that had been selling fake degrees were shut down.

There have also been concerns raised about private colleges recruiting large numbers of people to courses they might not properly complete – with payments to colleges from fees and students being able to claim loans. The qualifications regulator Ofqual said there were “robust procedures” in place to make sure awarding bodies gave qualifications only to “candidates who have met the right standard in assessments completed in the right conditions”.

“This includes ensuring that the potential for malpractice, including fraud, is avoided, and that suspected malpractice is properly investigated so that action can be taken against those found to be responsible,” said an Ofqual spokesman. “As the exams regulator, we are continually vigilant about malpractice, including fraud.  We investigate and take action when necessary and alert other stakeholders, including the police, and currently have a number of ongoing investigations.”

National Living Wage: OECD Urges Caution

National Living Wage: OECD Urges Caution
The UK should be careful with its plans to raise the National Living Wage, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The OECD said “caution” was needed in the roll-out of the policy, given its possible impact on employment. In the Autumn Statement, Chancellor Philip Hammond pledged to raise the wage to £7.50 an hour next April.

The OECD also forecast that the UK would have one of the lowest growth rates among G20 countries by 2018. It predicts that the UK’s economy will grow by 1% in 2018, slower than both Germany (1.7%) and France (1.6%).

However, the organisation has raised its UK growth forecasts for this year and 2017. It now predicts the UK’s economy will expand by 2% this year, compared with an earlier forecast of 1.8%, while in 2017 it has lifted the growth forecast to 1.2% from 1.0%.

The OECD said the upward revision was due to Bank of England action and the depreciation in sterling since the Brexit vote. They also said the UK’s labour market had been “resilient”, although job creation had moderated recently.

“Real wages have been growing at a time of low inflation, but the fall of the exchange rate has started to increase price pressures,” it said. “Caution is needed with the implementation of the policy to raise the National Living Wage to 60% of median hourly earnings by 2020. The effects on employment need to be carefully assessed before any further increases are adopted, especially as growth slows and labour markets weaken.”

Sofa Boss Disappointed at Home Secretary’s Comments

Sofa Boss Disappointed at Home Secretary’s Comments
The boss of a sofa-making company said it is “very disappointing” that Home Secretary Amber Rudd accused his firm of recruiting “exclusively” from Romania and Poland. Matt O’Flynn, who runs Hastings-based Collins and Hayes, said that 75% of his staff are actually from the UK.

amberrudd

Ms Rudd visited the company, which is in her constituency, in August 2015. She said the firm did not consider training up locals, despite the availability of a local college.

“I went and visited a factory quite recently where they recruit almost exclusively from Romania and Poland, where there are people that have had experience in factories building these sofas, they didn’t even consider training locally. “There was a local college they could have worked with, but they choose to recruit outside the UK,” the Home Secretary told the BBC’s Today programme on Wednesday.
Mr O’Flynn found those comments “very disappointing” and said his company was “committed to working with the local community” and had spoken to Ms Rudd about his need for more sewing machinists. It is “commonplace” in the industry to hire staff from abroad when there is a surge in demand, according to Mr O’Flynn.

Collins and Hayes uses an agency to bring in staff from Poland and Romania, which it then trains up and hires on permanent contracts, he said. Collins and Hayes, which supplies John Lewis and Furniture Village, has been making furniture for 140 years.

On Wednesday, the home secretary defended plans to make firms do more to employ British people, saying “don’t call me a racist” for talking about immigration.

Under her proposals, firms could be forced to disclose what percentage of their workforce is non-British as a way to encourage them to hire more locals. The home secretary believes firms are “getting away” with not training enough British workers and the existing resident labour test – which requires firms to advertise vacancies in the UK for 28 days before looking outside the EU – should be toughened up

Last Sunday, Prime Minister Theresa May said she would trigger Article 50, the clause needed to start the exit process, by the end of March 2017.

A fall in the pound is often seen as beneficial to the FTSE 100 as many of the companies in the index generate most of their revenues abroad. A weaker pound means overseas revenues are worth more when they are converted back into sterling. Mining companies were among the biggest gainers in the FTSE 100 on Friday. Anglo American rose 3.3% while BHP Billiton added 2.8%. Easyjet shares fell a further 3.6%, as investors continued to react to Thursday’s profit warning from the airline.

In the FTSE 250, shares in William Hill and Ladbrokes were both lower after a report in the Times said gambling companies could be banned from advertising on TV during the day.

Mothers’ Pay Lags Behind Men

Mothers’ Pay Lags Behind Men
Women who return to work part-time after having a baby continue to earn less than men for many years afterwards, says a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The wage gap between men and women becomes steadily wider in the years after babies are born, the IFS says. Women miss out on promotions and accrue less experience than men, which holds back their earning power, it adds.

pension

Over the subsequent 12 years, women’s hourly pay rate falls 33% behind men’s.

Robert Joyce, one of the IFS report’s authors, said women did not see an immediate cut in their hourly wages when they reduce their hours. “Rather, women who work half-time lose out on subsequent wage progression, meaning that the hourly wages of men (and of women in full-time work) pull further and further ahead. In addition, women who take time out of paid work altogether and then return to the labour market miss out on wage growth,” he added.

Men are 40% more likely than women to be promoted into management roles, separate research showed.

A report by the Chartered Management Institute and XpertHR found that the difference in promotion rates is one of the main causes of the gender pay gap.

Mark Crail, content director at XpertHR, said: “The gender pay gap is not primarily about men and women being paid differently for doing the same job. “It’s much more about men being present in greater numbers than women the higher up the organisation you go. Our research shows that this gap begins to open up at relatively junior levels and widens – primarily because men are more likely to be promoted.”

On average, women earn 18% less per hour than men, according to the IFS research. After returning to work following the birth of a first child, that wage difference per hour rises steadily.

The TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It is scandalous that millions of women still suffer a motherhood pay penalty. Many are forced to leave better-paid jobs due to the pressure of caring responsibilities and the lack of flexible working.”

The starting pay gap of 18% between men and women is in fact much smaller than before. Back in 1993, it was 28% and in 2003 it stood at 23%.

Once children are born, many women return to work only part-time or stop working altogether.

The IFS found that in the 20 years following the arrival of a first child, the average woman had worked for four years fewer than men. And men had spent nine years more than women working for 20 hours a week or more.

“Comparing women who had the same hourly wage before leaving paid work, wages when they return are on average 2% lower for each year spent out of paid work in the interim,” the IFS found.

“This apparent wage penalty for taking time out of paid work is greater for more highly educated women, at 4% for each year out of paid work.  The lowest-educated women (who actually take more time out of paid work after childbirth) do not seem to pay this particular penalty, probably because they have less wage progression to miss out on,” the IFS explained.

Earlier this year the government announced plans, to start in 2017, under which 8,000 employers with more than 250 staff will have to reveal the number of men and women in each pay range, and show where the pay gaps are at their widest.

A government spokeswoman said: “The gender pay gap is the lowest on record but we know we need to make more progress and faster. That’s why we are pushing ahead with plans to force businesses to publish their gender pay and gender bonus gap – shining a light on the barriers preventing women from reaching the top.”

Looming Brexit Headache for Nissan’s Sunderland Car Plant

Looming Brexit Headache for Nissan’s Sunderland Car Plant
Nissan’s car manufacturing plant in Sunderland is the UK’s largest, producing 500,000 vehicles a year. But it could face a crunch point for investment as soon as next year, sources tell BBC Newsnight, as a result of the uncertainty following the vote to leave the European Union.

Nissan_Leaf

The question is how Sunderland, which employs nearly 7,000 people, stacks up against other plants in the Renault-Nissan Alliance while the details of the UK’s future trading and customs arrangements with Europe remain unclear. The Franco-Japanese group makes its plants bid against each other to win significant new production contracts, with Sunderland facing stiff competition from Renault plants in continental Europe.

Nissan has previously said that future investment in the UK will depend on a “number of important factors, including the UK’s trade and tariff negotiations with the European Union” – a message reiterated by chief executive Carlos Ghosn in comments to the BBC last week. However, sources have told Newsnight that this presents a looming issue for Sunderland.

Bidding is expected towards the end of next year or in early 2018 for the latest model of the Qashqai, Nissan’s popular “crossover” vehicle. The new model would be slated for launch in 2020. It seems unlikely that the UK will have finalised its trading arrangements with the EU within that time frame. So under those circumstances, would Sunderland even be able to bid to build the latest Qashqai model? Or would the plant have to include potential trade tariffs into its calculations, driving up the costs of its bid?

The worry is that Sunderland could effectively be handicapped when it comes to the process of bidding for new work, referred to by one source as a “beauty competition”. Uncertainty over tariffs is particularly significant, given that about 80% of Sunderland’s production is exported.

The Qashqai is hugely important for Sunderland. It accounts for about 60% of the plant’s output, and is the biggest car made in the UK by volume, according to industry body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

Nissan said on Tuesday that it was company policy not to comment on its new model allocation process.

Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Renualt-Nissan, last week told the BBC that he is “reasonably optimistic” the UK will remain an important partner for Europe, once trade negotiations are completed. But he also warned that investment decisions were effectively on hold, until there is more detail on the likely trade and customs arrangements post-Brexit.

Nissan has already committed to building an upgraded model of the current Qashqai in Sunderland. That will go into production next year, and will introduce semi-autonomous driving technology into the cars for the first time.

But the question mark over how Sunderland can compete for future work with rivals in Spain or France demonstrates how the uncertainty surrounding the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with Europe could impact investment – particularly in sectors like the car industry, where big spending decisions are made several years ahead of a product’s launch.

Unite, the trade union, on Tuesday told Newsnight that the Sunderland plant was “one of the most efficient and productive in the Nissan/Renault global family”. It added: “Central to the continuing success of the UK car industry is continued access to the single market with zero tariffs – ensuring we safeguard decent jobs and investment for the future.”

Nissan, whose operations support close to 40,000 UK jobs in its own facilities and through its dealerships and supply chain, said ahead of the June referendum that its preference was that the UK voted to stay within the EU. Despite that, 61% of people in Sunderland backed Brexit in the vote.

Since the referendum, the manufacturer has said it is “working closely” with the government, but warns that “it is in the interest of the businesses and people of the UK that a resolution is reached as soon as possible” in trade and tariff talks with the EU. Those in Sunderland, eyeing the bid to build the latest Qashqai next year, would surely agree.

Hermes UK Hounding Low Paid Workers, MP Claims

Hermes UK Hounding Low Paid Workers, MP Claims
A Labour MP has accused the courier company Hermes UK of “hounding” its employees, including the parents of a dying child. Frank Field has written to the prime minister calling for an investigation into the firm’s working practices.

hermes

A recent Guardian investigation found some of its workers were effectively paid less than the minimum wage.

Hermes UK said it would investigate the specific cases raised in the letter and that its pay averaged £9.80 per hour. The compulsory National Living Wage, for those aged 25 and over, currently stands at £7.20. Younger workers can earn less.

In his letter to Theresa May, Mr Field, who is currently locked in a battle with Sir Philip Green over the collapse of BHS, wrote: “In one case that was shared with me by a former Hermes UK worker, a six-year-old boy was taken to hospital for an emergency leg amputation and was put on life support. His parents were both couriers and, while they were at their son’s side, they were told by Hermes UK that if they did not return to work immediately they would have their rounds taken off them. Their son then died in hospital, and yet still they were being hounded to return to work, or face losing their delivery rounds.”

Mr Field said that he has been contacted by “a number of current and former workers” regarding company procedures which make them feel as though they “are being treated like dirt”.

The six procedures he says have been raised by couriers are:

◾ Hospital appointments – employees threatened with removal of work if they attend
◾ Legal minimum wage – once fuel costs factored in, paid less than minimum wage
◾ Holiday arrangements – only permitted if they arrange full cover
◾ Seven-day working – workers fear they have to be available for work every single day
◾ Tax obligations – suggestions that Hermes UK may be shifting profits overseas to avoid paying fair share of tax
◾ Bogus self-employment – couriers say they get none of the benefits of flexible self-employment but shoulder all the risks and insecurity

Hermes UK rejected all of the complaints above. The company said it had written to Mr Field to invite him to discuss the contents of the letter. Of the claim about the “hounded” parents, it said: “Until this morning, we were unaware of the accusation concerning the young boy in hospital and the pressure put on his parents.

“Whilst we are currently investigating that claim, we would like to make it extremely clear that we are absolutely appalled by this story and, if it proves to be true in any way, we will take decisive action.”

On the legal minimum wage, it said: “Our records prove that on average, our network of 10,500 self-employed couriers receive the equivalent of £9.80 per hour after deductions, 36% above the National Living Wage of £7.20.

“All couriers have received a 2.5% increase in payments since the start of the year and minimum pay is increasing to £7.50 to reflect this.”

As far as the bogus self-employment claim was concerned, the firm said HMRC had reviewed its courier model in 2011 and confirmed that it was legitimate, adding that it would be happy for HMRC to come and revisit at any time.

“We use internal and external tax and employment law specialists to ensure that the services that our couriers perform for Hermes, and the way these services are directed by Hermes, is consistent with self-employment at all times,” the company said.

It said it did not expect couriers to work a seven-day week and it had 4,500 “specific cover couriers to support our permanent couriers” so that they were able to take holidays.

“We would like to make it absolutely clear that Hermes UK does not transfer any monies overseas to avoid paying tax. We pay all taxes due in the UK,” the statement concluded.