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Professional skills shortages

On 12 May 2021, the Professional Qualifications Bill 2021-22 was laid before Parliament. This will give UK regulators the power to make mutual recognition agreements with their international counterparts where there is a UK shortage of qualified professionals. Accompanying guidance has been published to assist regulators in negotiating these agreements. They will also have the support of a new ‘Recognition Arrangements Team’. The Government will identify and specify in regulations a priority list of professions where there is demand for skills from overseas, taking into account whether a profession is on the shortage occupation list, vacancy levels, workforce modelling and skills forecasting, and whether there are other ways that professions might address shortages.

Workforce loneliness guidance

The Government has published new guidance on how organisations can tackle loneliness in their workforce. This notes that the estimated cost of loneliness to UK employers is £2.5 billion annually and, by tackling loneliness, employers can ensure a more productive and resilient workforce, particularly as we move to more hybrid models of working. Five key themes are identified: culture and infrastructure; management; people and networks; work and workplace design; and the wider community. The guidance addresses each theme and includes examples of good practice, such as setting up a comprehensive wellbeing programme; having a trained ‘loneliness’ champion; and making loneliness part of managers’ responsibilities.

ACAS report on workplace conflicts

Acas has published a report on the incidence, impact and cost of workplace conflicts. This estimates that the total cost of conflict to UK organisations is £28.5 billion annually and that nearly 10 million people experience conflict at work each year. Although only 5% of those employees resign as a result, conflict is estimated to have led to 874,000 employees taking sickness absence each year, at a cost of £2.2 billion. The report also highlights that there is an average of 374,760 formal grievances and 1.7 million formal disciplinary cases each year. Implications for policy and procedures are also discussed. For example, the report recommends that employers invest in effective early resolution mechanisms and place greater emphasis on repairing employment relationships promptly. The report also discusses the possible impacts of the pandemic, remote working and the acceleration of automation.

ACAS advice on long covid

Acas has published advice for employers and workers in response to the growing impact of long Covid in the workplace. The Office for National Statistics estimates that over one million people have reported experiencing long Covid. The new guidance outlines a list of long Covid symptoms that can last weeks or months, including fatigue and problems with memory and concentration. Acas suggests that employers should discuss the potential impacts of long Covid as early as possible to address support such as flexible working and other reasonable adjustments.

‘Workers’ protected in health & safety cases

The Employment Rights Act 1996 (Protection from Detriment in Health and Safety Cases) (Amendment) Order 2021 came into force on 31 May 2021 to extend protection from detriment in health and safety cases to workers. This follows the case of R (Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in which the High Court held that the UK had failed to properly implement the EU Health and Safety Framework Directive by limiting protection to employees. The Acas guidance ‘Working safely during coronavirus’ has been updated.

New Bill for development of skills

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill 2021-22 was introduced in Parliament on 18 May 2021. This sets out the legislation to implement the reforms in the Skills for Jobs White Paper. New measures in the Bill include the power for the Secretary of State for Education to designate employer representative bodies to lead the development of local skills improvement plans; a duty for education and training providers to co-operate with employer representative bodies to develop local skills improvement plans and to take them into account when making decisions on post-16 education and training; and additional functions for the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education in relation to new categories of technical qualifications.

Government responds to report on women’s caring responsibilities

The Government has published its response to the Women and Equalities Committee report ‘Unequal impact? Coronavirus and the gendered economic impact’. This report concluded that Government policies have consistently overlooked women’s caring responsibilities and the inequalities experienced by women and made wide-ranging recommendations for action. The Government’s response accepts only a few of the Committee’s recommendations. There is confirmation that the Government will consult ‘in due course’ on making flexible working the default position. Redundancy protection will be extended to cover pregnant women and for six months after a mother has returned to work, but no specific timeframe is given. The Government is also considering proposals to require large employers to publish their parental leave and pay policies, with a formal response to the July 2019 consultation awaited. Calls for disability pay gap reporting have been rejected but the Government is considering its response to the 2019 ethnicity pay reporting consultation.

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