2017 has been a turbulent year of news, but in the world of diversity and flexible working there have been some signs of progress and activism. Here we highlight month by month the major developments.
The year began with a focus on work life balance: French companies with more than 50 workers have to guarantee workers a “right to disconnect” from email from the start of 2017.
Meanwhile, in the UK research by the Institute of Leadership and Management found more than half of workers feel that both the structure and culture of their workplaces are holding them back from doing their job more effectively, with 53% warning they will consider moving jobs unless their organisation changes.
The research identified a clear mismatch between employees’ desire for independence and flexibility and the reality of their current working environments.
There was concern about discrimination: a report from the Chartered Management Institute found four in five managers have witnessed some form of gender discrimination or bias at work in the past 12 months. The Women & Equalities Committee also called on the Government to increase penalties for employers who enforce discriminatory dress codes on women following concerns about women being forced to wear high heels.
On the positive side, more than two in five employees and owners involved in hiring said they would consider hiring candidates for a senior role as part of a job share, according to research by Timewise.
Moreover, another study by Avenir Consulting found fathers who use their right to flexible working are better at supporting their female partner and helping her career progression, especially if they are actively involved in childcare. However, the Modern Families Index warned dads who wish to do so face a potential ‘fatherhood penalty’.
With regard to childcare, the Mayor of London launched a new interest-free childcare deposit loan across all organisations in the Greater London Authority (GLA), including Transport for London and the Metropolitan Police.
In other news, the Prime Minister announced a new partnership with employers to improve mental health support in the workplace and a survey from Citizens Advice found one in five employers of shift workers said they tend to give contracted staff less than 48 hours notice of their shifts.
The TUC reported that the number of people in insecure work without guaranteed hours or baseline employment rights had increased by more than 660,000 or 27% over the past five years.
Meanwhile, it was reported that British military personnel would be allowed to temporarily work a reduced three-day week and opt out of frontline duties to spend more time with their families as part of a pilot scheme being tested by the Ministry of Defence.
The Women and Equalities Committee accused the Government of a lack of action to tackle the structural causes of the gender pay gap and the Race in the workplace review said listed companies and all businesses with more than 50 employees should publish a breakdown of employees by race, ideally by pay band, on their website and in their annual report.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies projected that income inequality would worsen in the period up to 2022 due to cuts in working-age benefits, rising inflation and differences in earnings growth for the more well off while the Family and Childcare Trust’s annual survey found British parents now pay an average of £116 per week for a part-time nursery place – or over £6,000 every year, more than double what families spend on food and drink in a year.
It was reported that the number of people on a zero-hours contract (ZHC) hit a record high of 910,000 in the last three months of 2016. Meanwhile, the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development said approximately 1.3 million people in the UK are working in the ‘gig economy’ and nearly two-thirds of them believe the Government should regulate to guarantee them basic employment rights and benefits such as holiday pay.
On the positive side, Vodafone announced a global programme to recruit 1,000 women who have taken a career break. Meanwhile, Asda announced a pay increase to £8.50 per hour from October 2017 in return for a new flexible contract. The new contract offer, which Asda store workers can choose to accept or not, is £1 per hour higher than the Government’s National Living Wage.
A Workingmums.co.uk’s survey found employers overwhelmingly believe that gender pay audits will be positive for business. The survey showed 86% of employers were positive about the audits.
In the Budget the Chancellor announced that the self employed would have to pay more in National Insurance contributions from next April, a move backed by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, but which he subsequently had to do a u-turn on. He also announced five million pounds for returner schemes.
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A study by The Pre-school Learning Alliance found that less than half of childcare providers are planning to provide the 30 hours free childcare promised by government and the majority think the policy will have a negative impact on their finances. The Alliance warns that the policy is not fully funded. Around a week later the Government announced £50m to help nurseries, pre-schools and playgroups upgrade their facilities so they can provide additional free childcare places for three and four year olds. Campaigners say it is still not enough. Later in the month the think tank Localis called on the government to scrap its plan for 30 hours free childcare and target support at the lowest paid.
Meanwhile, the Government’s legislation on gender pay gap reporting came into force for employers with over 250 members of staff. However, the CBI’s Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn warned that workplace diversity risked ‘going backwards’ unless businesses make swifter progress on creating more inclusive workplaces in the face of competing priorities.
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May was dominated by the general election campaign which brought various pledges on paternity rights and free childcare.
Meanwhile, the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee urged the Government to set out a roadmap for equalising the National Insurance contributions made by employees and the self-employed. It said loopholes that allow employers to exploit workers through using self employment need to be closed.
May was also the month for National Work from Home Day and the TUC reported that the number of employees who usually work from home increased by 152,000 last year.
A Cardiff University report found sixty per cent of people living in poverty in the UK live in a household where someone is in work, the highest figure recorded. The study shows having only one worker in a family is the main risk factor for poverty.
In the lead-up to publication of the Taylor review of modern employment practices, employers were concerned by the issue of employment status and skills shortages.
A report from the Institute of Directors recommended that the next government should create an online portal which clarifies self employed people’s status for legal purposes and gives them information about their rights and a forum to lodge a complaint anonymously.
A Chartered Institute of Personnel Development survey found nearly three-quarters of HR professionals expect the competition for well-qualified talent to increase post Brexit and nearly two-thirds predict further difficulty recruiting senior and skilled employees over the next three years.
Meanwhile, the number of childminders continued to fall: figures in June showed there are now less than 43,500 childminders in England, a fall of 500 since December and a fall of 24% compared to August 2012.
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There was also news about gender diversity and flexible working. A report by The Boston Consulting Group found gender diversity at companies leads to markedly better performance, yet most executives don’t have a clear plan for achieving it. And the Timewise Flexible Jobs Index 2017 found the proportion of higher paid jobs which are advertised with flexible working options rose slightly to 9.8%. A lack of high quality flexible jobs means many flexible workers are unable to progress their careers.
July was a busy month. The long-awaited Taylor review of modern employment practices called for greater clarity over employment status to distinguish those who are genuinely self employed from those whose employers are using self employment to avoid employment rights. The review also called for basic employment rights to be extended to all workers, including the self employed, and for a consistent taxation policy across employment forms.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has ruled that the fees brought in by the Government for those bringing employment tribunal claims are unlawful and indirectly discriminate against women.
More than 40 female BBC staff, including broadcasters Clare Balding, Victoria Derbyshire and Fiona Bruce, wrote an open letter to the organisation’s director general calling for a meeting on how to correct the gender pay gap following revelations showing stark differences in the pay of male and female presenters.
There were calls from Citizens Advice for the roll-out of Universal Credit to be paused until significant problems with it are fixed.
A report by the Executive Pipeline found there had been no improvement in the last year in the number of women on the Executive Committees of the UK’s FTSE 350 companies with 262 having no women executives on their main board.
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On childcare and maternity pay: the Family and Childcare Trust said holiday childcare costs had risen by four per cent in England since last summer, bringing the average parents pay for one week of holiday childcare to £125 – more than double what families spend on food and drink in a week. And a report from the Bright Blue Thinktank suggested the Government should lower the amount higher-earning working mothers can receive from the state through Statutory Maternity Pay and the money saved should be used to increase the base rate for maternity and paternity pay.
Some 4.6 million people in the UK regularly experience ‘precarious scheduling’: flexible working with limited hours dictated by management, often with little notice, and to the detriment of employees’ home lives and mental health, according to a study by Oxford and Cambridge sociologists.
A report by the Child Poverty Action Group predicted prices will have risen by four times as much as benefits in the seven years to 2019, putting severe strain on low income parents trying to fund essentials for their children.
On flexible working, the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s strategy for tackling gender, ethnicity and disability pay gaps said all jobs should be advertised as available for flexible working and greater support should be given to fathers to play more of a role in childcare in order to reduce pay gaps.
An Acas report said flexible working needs to be properly managed so that individuals and organisations can enjoy its benefits while avoiding some of the pitfalls such as a tendency to undervalue and underpromote flexible workers.
Meanwhile, the Government announced plans for four new public sector initiatives to help people return to work after career breaks. The Government Equalities Office will be establishing four new returner schemes across the public sector covering social work, allied health professions, teachers and the civil service.
The Government’s 30 hours of free childcare per week offer rolled out across the country from the start of September. The Government said the offer should save families around £5,000 per year on childcare and that around 390,000 working families are eligible to benefit.
However, the Pre-School Learning Alliance warned parents in England could face rising childcare costs and a squeeze on places as a result of government underfunding of the policy.
There was also a focus on gender pay parity. Many companies see the new gender pay regulations as complex, confusing and misleading and the majority are leaving it until later in the year or early next to release their figures, according to Mercer’s Gender Pay Gap Reporting Survey.
The Chartered Management Institute calculated that new ways of measuring income which include basic salaries, bonuses, perks and commissions show that the gender pay gap for the UK’s 3.3m managers is nearly £3,000 bigger than previously thought.
There was also growing concern about sexism in the workplace. Forty per cent of HR directors said their workplace was sexist, according to a YouGov survey for the Young Women’s Trust. It showed 10 per cent of organisations with 250 or more employees said there had been formal reports of sexual harassment in their workplace and 12 per cent said they were aware of incidents that had gone unreported.
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On the positive side, there were new Acas guidelines which advised employers of parents who have had premature babies to ask them what they would like to tell their work colleagues about their situation.
The month was dominated by reports of sexual harassment in the workplace and in the Government. A BBC survey found half of British women and a fifth of men have been sexually harassed at work or a place of study. Meanwhile Theresa May called for new grievance procedures to tackle sexual harassment in Westminster.
The Hays Gender Diversity Report 2017 found men are more than twice as likely to be promoted when they have children than women. On the positive side, the gender pay gap for full-time employees has fallen to 9.1%, down from 9.4% in 2016, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.
There was also more news on the impact of austerity policies with the Runnymede Trust and the Women’s Budget Group saying the poorest families have been worst hit by austerity and will have seen their income drop by an average of around 17% between 2010 and 2020, with Black and Asian women taking the biggest hit.
A report by the Executive Coaching Consultancy focused on young dads and said organisations should develop HR policy which recognises young men’s desire for greater work-life balance and more equal share of parenting if they are to achieve their objective of a more gender diverse workforce.
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Gender equality in the boardroom of FTSE 100 companies is in danger of stalling, according to a study by Beyond Analysis and business consultant David O’Brien which finds progress over the last 10 years has been overwhelmingly due to non-executive appointments.
Moreover, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report said a decade of slow but steady progress on improving parity between the sexes came to a halt in 2017, with the global gender gap widening for the first time.
The Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry called for committed leadership to ensure the workplace is free from sexual harassment.
On the plus side, one in three hiring decision makers in the US and UK expect to increase investment in diversity and inclusion efforts and only three percent expect it to decrease, according to a report from Glassdoor.
In legal news, the Central Arbitration Committee have ruled that Deliveroo riders are self-employed contractors and not workers in a dispute about union recognition.
In the autumn statement the Chancellor announced plans to scrap the seven-day initial waiting period for processing of new Universal Credit claims.
In other news:
It was reported that employers looked likely to leave publication of their gender pay gap reports until the very last minute rather than stand out by publishing data ahead of their competitors. Moreover, at the first conference of Employers Initiative on Domestic Violence it was reported that only one in 20 medium and large UK organisations have a specific policy or guideline to cover domestic abuse among their workforce despite the fact that almost two million adults have experienced it in the last year.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has written to Chairs of the FTSE 100 and other leading employers saying it will take legal action where there is evidence of systemic failing in preventing, or dealing with, sexual harassment.
The Commission also announced businesses failing to comply with gender pay gap reporting regulations could face unlimited fines and convictions.
In legal news, the TUC called on the Prime Minister Theresa May to face down reported attempts by members of her Cabinet to scrap the Working Time Directive after Brexit.
And it was reported that employment tribunal claims have risen by 66% in the first quarter after the UK Supreme Court declared employment tribunal fees unlawful.
On flexible working, a study in the journal Human Relations said professionals who want to work part time need to redesign their jobs to reduce outputs in addition to renegotiating their hours. And the Government launched a policy paper on increasing flexible working in schools. Meanwhile, more family friendly working and the expansion of a returner scheme are part of the radical action the NHS needs to take to improve working conditions, boost training and retention and become a ‘model employer’ for staff, according to a report on the future of the health and care workforce.
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