Ithas been a challenging year for HR, with a growing amount of red tape, a needto improve the bottom line in a tough economic market, and a number ofhigh-profile strikes. Personnel Today looks back at the yearAgencyWorkers DirectiveHRhad to watch while the draft Agency Workers Directive became tougher onemployers as the year progressed.TheEuropean Commission directive proposed to give agency workers the same pay andconditions as permanent employees. Agency staff would be entitled to the samesalaries, work and rest periods, paid holidays, overtime pay and health andsafety rights.Asfar back as March, UK HR argued that this would raise employers’ costs and tiethem up in red tape.TheCommission originally proposed the entitlements should come into force aftersix weeks of employment, but many in Europe – including MEP Ieke van den Burg –were in favour of immediate rights.InOctober, 71 per cent of the 1,000 organisations surveyed by Personnel Today andManpower said that their business would suffer if the EU Agency WorkersDirective was introduced. Almost half predicted that it would damage thecompetitiveness of the UK economy.HRprofessionals were angry that rights could be granted from the very start ofthe temporary worker’s employment.Lastmonth, the European Parliament granted a transitional five-year period for theUK and Ireland to make use of the six-week exemption – but only in respect ofpay, not any other terms and conditions, and stated that adequate pay must beprovided from day one. Dataprotection and internet monitoringHRprofessionals were left hanging on a string by confusing and delayed dataprotection guidance, while internet misuse and problems with new technologycontinued to escalate.TheInformation Commission drip-fed its guidance on The Data Protection Act 1998,which outlined employers’ responsibilities when handling staff information.InJuly, a Personnel Today and Websense survey revealed that one in four companieshad sacked staff for internet abuse, with 43 per cent of firms experiencing webabuse every month.Twomonths later another study, by Personnel Today and KLegal, showed that e-mailand internet abuse by staff has become the biggest disciplinary problem foremployers. It is now the most common disciplinary offence – with moreincidences than dishonesty, violence and health and safety breaches combined.TheInformation Commission released the first two of four codes – on recruitment andemployee records – but they were said to be confusing.Thefinal two codes, on monitoring and medical records, have been delayed until thenew information commissioner Richard Thomas takes over the position this month.However,new plans by the European Commission to give staff more rights to privacy atwork could confuse the situation even further.Lastmonth the EC announced it had started a second consultation for legislation onemployment-based data protection, which could introduce more safeguards toprotect staff rights. WorkingTime DirectiveECmoves to end the UK’s 48-hour opt-out following a review of the Working TimeDirective has many employers worried.TheWorking Time Regulations, based on a 1993 EU directive, have always givenemployers and staff in the UK the right to opt out of the 48-hour week.Currently,40 per cent of large organisations in the UK ask staff to sign the opt-out. Butthe EC could scrap the opt-out by the end of next year, hitting many sectors –particularly construction, catering, and the NHS – hard.Inlate November, Personnel Today teamed up with the Employment LawyersAssociation to help the EC survey the views of UK organisations.TheEuropean Commissioner responsible, Fernando Pereira, wants to find out howlosing the opt-out will damage business and how it would tackle the long-hoursculture.Employmentrelations minister Alan Johnson, said the UK must pick up the fight: “Wethink the opt-out is good. It is a good balance for individuals to have theright to work more than 48 hours, but not be forced to do so,” he said.MeasuringHRis taking steps towards measuring its own worth, the worth of people, andfighting for a strategic role on the board.However,there is still some way to go with a survey of 300 HR directors showing that 52per cent think they have a limited influence on the board’s decision-makingprocess. Just 21 per cent think they influence to a large extent, 19 per centthink they ‘definitely’ do.InSeptember, a Personnel Today andDeloitte & Touche study showed that HR is being held back by its inabilityto measure human capital. While many HR professionals say they usebenchmarking, metrics and balanced scorecards, only four in 10 users believethese methods are successful.Commentatorssay that most companies are struggling to measure the worth of their peoplebecause human capital is such a complicated asset to value. But, they predict,human asset accounting will be-come a standard benchmark in annual reports, andthis will create a powerful argument for HR to be included as a key strategicplayer.Withthis in mind, we launched our series Delivering HR Strategy, which is offeringpractical guidance on how HR can offer more value.IndustrialactionWhileunions and statistics insist that we are not headed for another ‘Winter ofDiscontent’, the profile of strikes soars. However,of firefighters, local government workers, teachers, rail workers, theatreworkers, tube drivers, airport staff, benefit office workers, British Librarystaff, gallery attendants, and carmakers all walked out in protests this year.Despiteall of this, TUC employment rights expert Sarah Veale told the CIPD conferencethat the media was overstating the employment relations problem.Figuresshow that in the 12 months to July, 1.1 million days were lost through strikeaction. In comparison, however, 29.1 million days were lost in 1979. 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