Issue 45

Welcome to the latest edition of our international employment news update.

As 2021 draws to a close, employers will look back with some relief after a tumultuous year dominated by COVID-19 such as the challenges of home working, 'back to work' policies, vaccinations and the end of government COVID-19 support mechanisms. Other key issues were the impact of Brexit, changes to minimum wages, skills shortages, and an increased focus on diversity and equality in the workplace from board level to recruitment.

Looking forward to 2022, we anticipate that the implementation of the EU Whistleblowing Directive will be a key topic of discussion for HR professionals. Changes to the status of workers in the gig economy, the continuing reaction to COVID-19, and a growing interest in environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) are also likely to be areas of debate in the next 12 months.

EU drafts rule changes for gig economy workers

The European Commission has released draft rules that improve the rights of gig economy workers by requiring platform companies to consider their drivers or couriers as employees. This means that the workers would be entitled to legal protections, including receiving a minimum wage. The companies, which include Uber and Deliveroo, will be regarded as employers if they limit workers' ability to choose their working hours or jobs, supervise workers' performances through electronic means, and stop them from working for third parties. If enacted, it will give the EU some of the world's strictest rules for the gig economy. Labour advocates have hailed the proposal as a breakthrough in gig economy practices, whilst platform companies have warned that the changes could lead to job losses and further litigation.

UAE reduces working week

The government of the UAE announced that it is going to reduce the working week to four and a half days starting on 1 January 2022. The new weekend will be Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday. Working hours will be 7:30am to 3:30pm Monday to Thursday, and 7:30am to 12:00pm on Fridays. The announcement affects all federal government entities but the proposal has since been adopted by private companies. For example, Bloomberg reports that stock exchanges in the UAE will follow the new hours whilst the Dubai budget carrier, Flydubai, has announced that it will also operate a four and a half day week.

More on other reforms is here.

Declining purchasing power: French Government allocates “inflation allowance”

Between December 2021 and February 2022, an allowance of €100 will be paid to more than 38 million French people, including low-salary employees who are defined as employees who received an average monthly salary of less than €2,000 between 1 January and 31 October 2021. The so-called 'inflation allowance' aims to combat the increase in energy prices in France. The allowance will be paid directly by employers to eligible low-salary employees. The inflation allowance will be fully exempt from social security contributions and income tax and employers will recover the cost of the allowances via an equivalent reduction in social security contributions.

Insurer offers 'grandparental leave'

Saga Insurance is offering employees a week of paid full-time leave when their grandchildren are born. Saga claims that this is the first example of grandparental leave for major UK businesses. The chief people officer at Saga, Jane Storm, commented that the decision 'is about helping new grandparents celebrate a special moment…It's also a symbol of how important older workers are to their companies and to society'. Saga's core market includes grandparents.

German coalition party requests more migrants for labor market

To cover the growing demand for labour, enable growth and secure the social welfare system, Germany needs a significant increase in immigration accoridng to the FDP, a coalition party in the new German government. The Federal Employment Agency estimates 400,000+ people are needed per year.

Poland leads in post-pandemic labour market revival

Poland has recorded strong figures for keeping people at work during the pandemic. According to the Polish Economic Institute, Poland recorded a mere 2.1% decrease in working hours in 2020, the smallest drop in working hours in the EU and the third smallest drop globally. Poland expects the figure to rise to 2.4% by the end of 2021.

Slovakia introduces weekly testing for unvaccinated employees

As of 29 November 2021, only employees who are vaccinated, have recovered from COVID-19, or have tested negative in the last seven days, are allowed to enter the workplace in Slovakia. If an employee is unvaccinated or has not had COVID-19 in the last 180 days, the employer must offer them a chance to take a free antigen test in the workplace under the supervision of a person chosen by the employer. The costs incurred should be reimbursed by the state. The measures have been criticised by public health experts who claim week-old antigen self-tests are not that reliable. There are also growing calls for some groups, such as healthcare workers, to face compulsory vaccination.

New work from home guidance in England

From Monday 12 December, people in England should start working from home (WFH) again if possible. According to the government's Scientific Advisory Group, WFH is one of the most effective ways to limit social exposure because it reduces face-to-face contact with colleagues and the number of people on public transport. However, employers have issued a wide range of more flexible instructions since the guidance was announced. The 'big four' accounting firms and several major banks have said they will let workers go into their offices for mental health reasons or for business-critical needs. The magazine publisher Future and the Telegraph Media Group have also made it clear that they need their staff to be in the office.