HR news round-up: from childcare recruitment to economic inactivity gaps

This week’s HR news round-up covers everything from the recruitment drive for childcare workers to a report on the widening regional gaps when it comes to economic inactivity.


Government launches childcare recruit drive

The Government has announced a trial that will offer a £1,000 sign-on bonus to new and returning childcare staff in 20 local authority areas as part of efforts to support the promised expansion of free childcare from April.

Childcare experts have welcomed the ‘Do something big’ recruitment drive, but say the £6.5m campaign is too little and too late, coming just weeks before the roll-out of the first stage of the childcare expansion plan – which will see two year olds of parents who work at least 16 hours a week at minimum wage and above eligible for 15 hours ‘free’ childcare from April.

Childcare providers, who say the sector is in crisis, also warn that the bonuses may attract people, but the issue is retaining them and because of underfunding of the sector for many years this is challenging. Many are on the national minimum wage and childcare providers say they are struggling to keep up with increases in this due to historic underfunding. Meanwhile, the TUC is calling on the Government to introduce a £15 an hour minimum wage for childcare workers and a ban on zero-hours contracts and to work with unions to upskill staff.

Purnima Tanuku from the National Day Nurseries Association said: “It’s important to stress that this campaign comes too late to support nurseries with the first phase of the childcare expansion which begins in two months. Campaigns like this take time to have a positive impact and the sector needs qualified and experienced staff now.

“Our research with providers suggests that 83% are operating at a loss or just breaking even. Without addressing funding which hasn’t kept pace with rising costs, nurseries are unable to pay competitive wages that their staff teams deserve so they can retain them in their settings. The Government must bring forward a long-term workforce strategy to address underfunding, recruitment, retention and career progression to support those who care for our youngest children.”

Small firms struggle to find workers

The majority of British businesses, especially smaller companies, are facing challenges in filling job vacancies, according to a survey by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC).

Around 70% of employers reported a shortage of candidates, with the problem being more severe outside of London. The survey found that over 80% of companies with 50 or fewer staff are struggling to fill positions, compared to 67% of large businesses and 57% of medium-sized companies.  At the same time, employment search engine Adzuna is reporting that UK job vacancies are falling at the fastest pace since June 2020.

Meanwhile, figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal the number of companies that went bust in England and Wales reached a 30-year high in 2023, with over 25,000 company insolvencies registered. Rising costs and interest rates, along with higher energy bills and a cost of living crisis, contributed to the financial distress faced by businesses. Scotland and Northern Ireland also recorded their highest numbers of company insolvencies since 2012 and 2019, respectively.

One in three UK employers see increase in remote work, survey finds

One in three UK employers has seen an increase in staff working from home in the last year, according to a survey of over 1,000 managers.

The Acas survey found that 20% of employers had more staff requesting to work remotely, with the cost of living being a factor.

Acas Chief Executive, Susan Clews, said: “The cost of living pressures are impacting many people and it is unsurprising that over a third of employers have seen an increase in staff working from home.

“For some workers, the cost of commuting is eating into their budgets, while for others, going to their workplaces saves on home energy costs.

“It’s important for businesses to work with staff to agree suitable ways of working for specific roles, taking account of individual circumstances and regularly review arrangements. Acas has good practice in this area that can help.”

Meanwhile, it was reported that EY and Clifford Chance have become the latest City firms to introduce surveillance methods to track office attendance.

EY is reported to be reviewing swipe-card entry data to monitor office attendance and ensure employees are sticking to a hybrid working policy which requires office attendance at least two days a week. The data will reportedly be used to crack down on individuals who fail to meet the minimum in-office requirements.

Report highlights ‘endemic’ misogyny in the music industry

Women pursuing careers in music face “endemic” misogyny and discrimination in a sector dominated by self-employment and gendered power imbalances, according to a new report by the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC).

WEC’s ‘Misogyny in Music’ report details a “boys’ club” where sexual harassment and abuse is common and the non-reporting of such incidents is high. It says victims who do speak out struggle to be believed or may find their career ends as a consequence.

Despite increases in representation, it states, women encounter limitations in opportunity, a lack of support and persistent unequal pay; these issues are intensified for women facing intersectional barriers, particularly racial discrimination.

The report also states that female artists are routinely undervalued and undermined, endure a focus on their physical appearance in a way that men are not subjected to, and have to work far harder to get the recognition their ability merits.

The cross-party committee of MPs is calling for the amendment of the Equality Act to ensure freelance workers have the same protections from discrimination as employees and the bringing into force of section 14 to improve protections for people facing intersectional inequality.

It also recommends the Government should legislate to impose a duty on employers to protect workers from sexual harassment by third parties, a proposal the Government initially supported and then rejected last year.

Among industry-specific recommendations, it called on the Government to prohibit the use of non-disclosure [NDA] and other forms of confidentiality agreements in cases involving sexual abuse, sexual harassment or sexual misconduct, bullying or harassment, and discrimination relating to a protected characteristic. It would like to see a retrospective moratorium on NDAs for those who have signed them relating to the issues outlined.

Read more here.

Consultation launched on employment tribunal fees

The Government has announced it has opened a consultation on introducing a ‘modest’ one-off fee of £55 in the employment tribunal and the employment tribunal system.

In 2017 the Supreme Court quashed a previous tribunal fees regime because it “effectively prevents access to justice, and is therefore unlawful”. The regime under which people had to pay as much as £250 for a claim and £950 for a tribunal hearing was introduced in 2013.

The TUC says that by seeking to reimpose fees the government is taking the side of bad bosses over workers exercising their rights and states that last time the Government tried it claims fell by two thirds.

In the year after the fees were introduced in 2013, the number of sex discrimination cases being pursued at employment tribunal has fell by 91%. Pregnancy discrimination claims for the period April-June 2014, compared with April-June 2013 pre-fees, were down 46% and unfair dismissal fell by 74%.

Part of the reason for introducing fees is to reduce claims due to the large backlog in cases. Since Covid the backlog of employment tribunal has risen and the average waiting time for a case to be heard is around a year.

Read more here. 

Shared Parental Leave and Pay [Bereavement] Bill passes first stage

A Private Member’s Bill which aims to cover a legal ‘loophole’ for parents whose partner dies in pregnancy or childbirth, enabling them to access parental leave and pay as a day one right, has passed the first hurdle in the House of Commons.

Currently, partners have to work for their employer for 26 weeks and give three months’ notice before the birth to access parental leave and pay.

Labour MP Chris Elmore has put forward the Shared Parental Leave and Pay (Bereavement) Bill. The Government says it supports giving partners access to unpaid leave in these circumstances, but says the 26-week rule applies for all other types of parental pay. It calculates the Bill could affect up to 50 parents a year.

The Bill would cover England, Scotland and Wales, if passed.

Read more here.

Report highlights growing gap between regions when it comes to economic inactivity

Different parts of the country have been more affected by economic inactivity as a result of health issues in the wake of the pandemic, with areas like West Wales being particularly badly hit and disability rather than age being a salient factor, according to a report by the Resolution Foundation.

The Foundation’s latest Labour Market Outlook shows that the areas with the biggest rises in long-term sickness are those where levels of ill-health were already high. Places like West Wales and Merseyside have seen levels of inactivity due to ill-health rise twice as fast as the national average. As a result, says the Foundation, long-term sickness gaps across Britain are widening.

The research finds that the worst affected areas tend to have particularly high shares of people with a disability, and a low share of graduates. The share of older workers in a local area, which was originally considered to be a key driver of rising economic inactivity, is not associated with rising long-term sickness. In particular, the report notes that areas like Lancashire and North West London have seen both big rises in long-term sickness and falls in employment – creating huge challenges for their local labour markets.

Read more here. 

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