East Anglia: Acas warns employers of ‘challenging’ year

THE head of conciliation service Acas in the East of England has warned the region’s employers that they could face a challenging year in 2012.

Pay claims, delayed retirement and the growing use of social media are all likely to require the attention of many businesses, according to Phil Rimmer, acting area director at Acas.

“The number of disputes and days lost to strikes remain at historically low levels. In fact, the number of work days lost to strikes is at its lowest for 20 years,” he said. “But in 2012 we could see tensions where employees are looking to make up for the pay and other concessions made during the recession.

“If inflation continues to rise, the mood for industrial action over pay claims is also likely to rise. We could still be in for a bumpy 12 months although we should remember that the partnership approach to employment relations arose out of the recession in the early 1990s. We may see a similar pragmatic approach to employment relations this time around.”

One of the most significant changes in the workplace over the coming year and beyond would be the ageing of the workforce, following the abolition of the default retirement age and future increases in the state pension age, said Mr Rimmer.

“Employers will face new challenges, for instance, handling flexible working requests fairly and providing training or support to develop the careers of older workers,” he said. “Having more people working longer means that employers also need to think about the job opportunities and career progression of the rest of the workforce.

Another issue for many employers would be the need to ensure that, while fully exploiting the benefits of using social media websites for marketing purposes, the risk of misuse was properly managed.

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“Social media throws up a number of issues for employees and employers in relatively uncharted territory for some,” he said.

“For instance should employers limit workforce access to social media sites at work? Can they regulate employee’s behaviour on sites outside of work if postings are work-related? And what types of behaviour should result in disciplinary action?”