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News from October 2003
- British workers want bosses to improve health, survey finds
(Oct. 31 '03)
BBC News reports that more than half of British workers believe bosses should be actively trying to improve their employees' health, a survey suggests. Most of the 2,020 people questioned said it would cut stress levels and improve general wellbeing. Most said it would also boost productivity and reduce sick leave. The survey was carried out by Taylor Nelson Sofres for private health insurer Standard Life Healthcare. The findings come just weeks after another survey suggested that stress costs British industry around £1.24bn each year, and is widely perceived by managers to be a drain on productivity.
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- 1st Annual List of New England's Best Workplaces for Commuters
(Oct. 31 '03)
New England's Best Workplaces for Commuters(SM) Coalition today announced the first annual list of New England's Best Workplaces for Commuters(SM). The list spotlights New England employers offering superior commuter benefits to employees, thereby reducing traffic and air pollution and improving quality of life for harried commuters. These organizations are viewed as leaders in their communities, committed to improving the environmental and quality of life. To qualify as one of New England's Best Workplaces for Commuters(SM), organizations must provide:
-- A central point of contact for information, who actively informs employees of commuter benefits available.
-- Access to a regional, TMA, or employer-provided Guaranteed/Emergency Ride Home program.
-- At least one primary commuter benefit, which can include a monthly transit/vanpool pass subsidy, cash in lieu of free parking, or a significant telecommuting program.
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- U of Michigan study documents benefits of compassion in the workplace
(Oct. 28 '03)
Small interpersonal acts of compassion in the workplace have significant, far-reaching effects on co-workers, according to a new University of Michigan Business School study. In their report, "What Good is Compassion at Work?" researcher Jane Dutton and colleagues (including Prof. Peter Frost at the University of British Columbia) identify a "cascading effect," whereby experiencing compassion at work generates positive emotion and, in turn, shapes employees' long-term attitudes and behaviors.
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- Over 1.5m days are lost to stress each year in the UK
(Oct. 25 '03)
Personnel Today magazine, in the 21 Oct 2003 issue, reported that more than 1.5m days are lost to stress each year in the UK. This is the cost in lost hours caused by spiralling workplace stress that is crippling UK business, hampering productivity and preventing employers from retaining and attracting staff. This is based on research conducted by Personnel Today and the Health & Safety Executive (HSE -- a UK regulagory agency). The problem seems to be getting worse, with more than half of UK organisations reporting an increase in workplace stress. A massive 83 per cent of HR professionals say they believe stress is holding back the UK's efforts to close the productivity gap, while 60 per cent claim it is adding to staff retention problems.
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- Phased-In Retirement Options Needed for Skill Shortage Challenge, reports the CLBC
(Oct. 25 '03)
From the Canadian Labour and Business Centre's October 20 email newsletter:
Phased-In Retirement Options Needed for Skill Shortage Challenge
The aging population and declining birth rate poses significant human resource challenges to Canada. CLBC Director Arlene Wortsman is the author of the following commentary that considers the potential of phased-in retirement options to give older workers new options and extend their contribution to the Canadian workforce.
Each year the number of Canadians choosing retirement grows. Statistics Canada reports that 706,000 Canadians retired in the period from 1997 to 2001 – up from 605,000 in the previous five-year period. It's an increase driven by two factors – the boomer generation nudging up in years and a trend to earlier retirement. We're going to need a lot of retirement condos – but who's going to build them?
Like many western countries, looming skill shortages will stimulate Canada's focus on workplace training, immigration and improving employment opportunities for aboriginal populations and other underutilized groups such as visible minorities and the disabled. One of the largely overlooked pools of skilled workers, however, has been the newly retired. Of those retiring since 1997, 53% had post-secondary education and 19% had a university degree. As a group, today's retirees are the youngest, healthiest and best educated of any Canadian generation.
The challenge is to balance the "freedom 55" aspirations of Canadians with policies that enable and encourage those seeking to scale back - but not abandon their connection to the workforce. The benefits are longer working careers for those who want them, and increased access to valuable skills and experience for the economy as a whole.
In New Brunswick the notion of phased-in retirement made it to the bargaining table in contract talks between nurses and their employers. Exhausted by the wear of overtime, the nurses' union saw hope in phased-in retirement to help meet the province's nursing needs. They knew that given a choice between retirement or more of the same – older nurses would usually opt for an early exit, taking their skills with them.
Although there's plenty of evidence of looming skill shortages in various industries and some parts of the country, the health sector strikes a chord with Canadians – everyone can understand how a shortage of nurses might impact their own lives.
We know that the average age of retirement is dropping faster among public sector workers – falling 2.1 years to 57.6 in the latest five-year period. The Canadian Institute for Health Information recently reported that the average age of registered nurses (RNs) rose from 42.6 to 44.2 over the past four years. Even more telling is the data on the near-retirement population, those over the age of 55. Only 8.5% of Newfoundland and Labrador's RN population is over 55 – in sharp contrast to British Columbia at 19.8%
As they say, do the math. One in five RNs in British Columbia is over the age of 55 and the average age of retirement among public sector workers is now 57.6. To make the human resource challenge in British Columbia even more compelling, the CIHI data finds that nearly half of that province's RNs were trained outside the province – making it the most dependent on immigration and inter-provincial migration.
A 2002 survey of business, public sector and labour leaders conducted by the Canadian Labour and Business Centre found that phased-in retirement is not prominent on the list of possible solutions cited to growing fears of skill shortages. (see Viewpoints Research at
21% of public sector managers believe 25% of their workforce will retire within five years.
Public sector managers are far more likely today to cite skill shortages as a serious problem – 32% in 1996, 57% in 2002.
57% of public sector managers cite skill shortages as a serious problem – and 28% consider phased-in retirement a very important option – ranking 6th on a list of possible remedies.
48% of private sector managers cite skill shortages as a serious problem, but only 14% consider phased-in retirement as a ‘very important' option.
Phased-in retirement is really a catch phrase that can include special assignments, mentoring, job sharing, and end to shift work, reduced hours and telecommuting. Unfortunately, the tax, pension and paperwork implications of these accommodations pose barriers that can translate into inertia.
In New Brunswick it was the nurses' union that brought phased-in retirement to the bargaining table. Having spent so many years fighting for improved pensions, unions are cautious about sending mixed signals to employers. As our Viewpoints survey found, however, the strongest support for phased-in retirement does in fact come from public sector unions, (48% citing this option as very important in meeting the skill shortage challenge, Viewpoints 2002).
To prosper, Canada must address the skill shortages threatened by an aging workforce and declining birth rate. We simply can't ignore the potential contribution of those who have earned the right to an early retirement but might be attracted to alternative workplace arrangements.
Please visit the CLBC website for further background on the near-retirement populations across industry sectors.
To subscribe or unsubscribe to CLBC's E-news, please send us an e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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- Canadian Labour Congress survey finds support for unions but criticisms from members
(Oct. 25 '03)
The Canadian Labour Congress has released results of a telephone poll of 2,000 Canadians conducted by Vector Research. The poll found some negative perceptions about unions, even among members. 38 % of union members said the seniority system is a ‘major reason' for not wanting a union. Women, young workers and immigrants were found to be receptive to unionization. Among non-union employees, 1 in 3 said they would join a union. See Virgina Galt's article in the Globe and Mail for a summary.
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- Precarious employment on the rise and requires new security net
(Oct. 25 '03)
An article entitled "Precarious jobs: A new typology of employment," by Leah F. Vosko, Nancy Zukewich and Cynthia Cranford in the October 2003 issue of Perspectives on Labour and Income (Statistics Canada), reports that although employees with full-time permanent jobs still accounted for the majority of employment, this kind of work became less common, dropping from 67% in 1989 to 64% in 1994 and 63% in 2002. Women are over-represented in part-time temporary jobs or part-time self-employment. A major public policy goal needs to be finding ways to provide precarious job holders more security.
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- Work-life conflict costs Canada $3-$5 billion annually
(Oct. 25 '03)
Health Canada released the final report from Linda Duxbury and Chris Higgins on work-life conflict in Canada. The researchers studied 31,571 employees from 100 companies across Canada to determine how prevalent the various forms of work–life conflict were in 2001; how work-life conflict has changed since 1991; how it is affected by gender, job type, sector of employment and the presence of dependents. The authors also measured the impact on Canadian organizations, families and individual employees. See a detailed Executive Summary, or the full 154 page report Work–Life Conflict in Canada in the New Millennium A Status Report Final Report October 2003, available in PDF format at the Health Canada website.
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- Wal-Mart's use of illegal immigrant cleaners raises concerns about labour rights
(Oct. 25 '03)
Writing in the New York Times on Oct 25, Steven Greenhouse describes the exploitative working conditions -- low pay, no breaks, no rights -- endured by illegial immigrants employed by firms contracted by Wal-Mart to clean its stores at night. US immigration officials have arrested dozens of these Wal-Mart store cleaners in a country-wide operation, and many face deportation. The largest employer in the US is facing tough questions about its employment and contracting-out practices.
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- Canada's Supreme Court supports rights of disabled workers
(Oct. 8 '03)
The Supreme Court of Canada has issued an important decision which
will have far-reaching effects on the equality rights of disabled
workers under the Charter, as well as on the jurisdiction of tribunals
and adjudicators to interpret and apply the Charter. In this case,
Nova Scotia W.C.B. v. Martin, the Supreme Court declared that (1)
Nova Scotia's restriction of workers' compensation benefits, for employees
disabled by "chronic pain", to a limited four-week "functional restoration
program," violated equality rights guaranteed to the disabled in s.15(1)
of the Charter of Rights, and that (2) it was within the jurisdiction
of the Workers' Compensation Appeals Tribunal to decide this issue,
since the tribunal had authority, under the provincial Workers' Compensation
Act, to decide questions of law. See report by Lancaster House (click on title above).
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- Irish workers satisfied but some too tired to enjoy life
(Oct. 6 '03)
One-third of Irish workers are too tired to enjoy home life after work, according to a survey of 5,000 employees carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute. The study shows that work stress peaks between 25 and 39, when employees are at a key stage in both career development and family formation. It says employers should consider alternative working arrangements to harness employee goodwill. The survey also found a general willingness to embrace additional skills and responsibility. In what may seem a paradox, over 85% of Irish workers find their work interesting, and are satisfied with their hours and physical working conditions. The survey was carried out in advance of a Forum on the Workplace of the Future to be held later today.
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- Federal government launches study of whistleblower legislation
(Oct. 5 '03)
Workplace.ca reports that the federal government is moving quickly to study the possibility of legislation to protect whistleblowers in the public service. The Treasury Board of Canada, the federal employer, has announced the creation of a working group to review the state of internal disclosure protection for federal employees. The study will review whistleblower legislation in other countries and propose options for change by early 2004.
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- The future of work: HR executives' vision of the 2013 workplace and workforce
(Oct. 5 '03)
WHAT WILL THE WORKPLACE BE LIKE IN 2013? A recent survey by the consulting firm Drake Beam Morin Canada for the Globe and Mail asked 522 Canadian HR managers what they thought the important workplace issues will be in 2013 -- when 4 generations of workers will be on the job -- and what skills and qualities they expect will be required of employees. The results of the survey and commentary on the findings can be found in articles on the Globe and Mail's website by reporters Virginia Galt, Wallace Immen and Katherine Harding examine changing career values, the need for soft skills, loyalty and telework.
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