Policy Newsletter 2021 - International Update

Published September 2021

See the UK update here.

COVID

France

Le Monde has reported that France’s Economy Minister, Bruno Le Maire, is to meet representatives from the hospitality industry to flesh out whether to maintain state support for the sector amid discussions on how the introduction of a requirement – a sanitary pass - to show proof of vaccination or negative COVID tests to enter many venues has affected the industry.

Hundreds of demonstrations have taken place in several cities in France against the sanitary pass – needed to go to restaurants, shopping centres or on long-distance public transport. So far, 73% of French people have had their first COVID jab. Data from the French health authority suggests that the cities and regions where there are the most demonstrators (Paris, Brittany, Normandy, Provence, Corsica) are also the cities where the vaccination rate is the lowest.

There are reports that some 3,000 health workers in France have been suspended because they have not been vaccinated against COVID. A new rule, which came into force on 15 September made vaccination mandatory for the country's 2.7 million health, care home and fire service staff.

However, French Health Minister, Olivier Véran, has said that ‘most of the suspensions are only temporary’. Many are now agreeing to get jabbed because they see that the vaccination mandate is a reality. The rule applies to all doctors, nurses, office staff and volunteers. President Emmanuel Macron first gave workers notice of the rule change on 12 July, warning them that they needed to get at least one jab by 15 September or resign from their jobs.

 

EU

The European Commission has confirmed, on 1 September, that the EU has vaccinated 70% of the adult population. However, there are discrepancies between EU countries, with Bulgaria and Romania lagging far behind, having around 20% and 32% of adults fully vaccinated, respectively.

 

US

With the highly contagious Delta variant sweeping across the US, and only about half of Americans fully vaccinated, an increasingly number of companies have started requiring workers to get a COVID jab. In the first two weeks of August, several airlines, retailers, tech companies, banks, and health care companies told employees that vaccinations will no longer be optional to come into the office, or in some cases, even to work remotely. Some companies are offering employees the option to keep working from home, rather than risk termination. Requiring vaccines is a move that most workers support (52% according to a recent Gallup poll), but a sizable chunk of the workforce (29%) is strongly opposed.

Other companies that haven’t wanted to impose an outright mandate are starting to look at charging the unvaccinated extra for health insurance, as well as other penalties. Some are even trying more of a carrot approach - offering paid time off and other incentives to get vaccinated. Some 40% or more of employees said they would be significantly more likely to get vaccinated if their employers took simple actions such as sharing information about the vaccine. Percentages were higher if employers offered on-site vaccination or paid time off to deal with side effects.

Many businesses are, however, treading carefully about the stricter options for fear that some people will quit.

Separately, the National Safety Council (NSC) is urging all employers to implement a COVID vaccination requirement for their workers and has issued a guide outlining a spectrum of vaccine requirement approaches and considerations for implementation in varying work settings. A recent NSC survey found that when employers require COVID vaccination, the number of workers who get a shot increases 35%. NSC President and CEO Lorraine M. Martin said, ‘employers must put worker health and safety first. That begins with prioritising vaccination’.

 

India

India has administered more than 180 million COVID vaccine doses as it continues to ramp up its vaccination drive to fend off a third wave, which is still expected. This was more doses than all the Group of Seven (G7) countries - Canada, the UK, the US, Italy, Germany, France and Japan - put together, according to an official statement. The Indian Government aims to vaccinate all eligible Indians by the end of 2021. To date, about 541 million people have received the first dose and another 165 million or so have received both doses so far. Regional disparities also persist with larger and poorer states lagging behind smaller and richer ones.

 

 

World Health Organization and booster jabs

The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for countries to delay rolling out booster shots of COVID vaccines to enable low-income countries to get more people vaccinated. Israel, France, Germany, UK and several countries in the Middle East have already begun or have plans for booster programmes. WHO data shows just over 1% of those in low-income countries had been vaccinated as of 4 August, compared with more than 50% of those in high-income countries. The WHO wants a moratorium on boosters to help to achieve its goal of vaccinating 10% of every country’s population by the end of September.

 

WHO and new COVID variant of concern

The WHO has identified a new 'variant of interest' called the Mu variant. It was first discovered in Colombia in January 2021 and has so far been in about 39 countries. While the existing vaccines might not cover all the mutations associated with Mu, this variant does not seem to be overtaking the Delta variant, the dominant variant across most of the world. If there are changes to the virus that mean it looks like it has the potential to do more harm, the WHO might designate it a ‘variant of interest’. While Mu has mutations that might confer some of these properties, the evidence is still emerging. If there’s good evidence Mu is more serious and beginning to overtake other variants, such as Delta, it might be upgraded to a ‘variant of concern’.

Environment

Use of leaded petrol ends

From the 1920s to the 1980s, leaded petrol was used as standard in cars and lorries. It contaminated air, soil and water, causing heart disease, cancer and strokes and has been linked to problems with brain development. While most high-income countries banned its use in the 1980s, globally it has only now finally been eradicated, according to the UN. Algeria - the last country to use it - ran out of supplies in July 2020. UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, commented ‘ending the use of leaded petrol will prevent more than one million premature deaths each year’.

 

Green jobs of the future

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) guide to sustainable career choices, the skills young people will need for the green jobs of the future are:

  • Science skills - key roles will include environmental scientists, biologists, hydrologists and biochemists. People in these jobs will monitor, manage and protect natural resources including land and valuable water supplies.
  • Architectural and planning skills - buildings will become more energy efficient, with fewer resources used to construct and operate them. Architects and planners will design these buildings to comply with environmental regulations and client demands for green spaces.
  • Green engineering and tech skills - today’s young people will be tomorrow’s green engineers, helping to design and maintain solar panels, wind turbines, low emissions vehicles and other green economy technology.
  • Agriculture skills - as farming and food supply becomes more sustainable, there’ll be a growing number of green jobs in areas such as organic farming, urban farming and precision agriculture. This involves using data to measure and improve farming efficiency.
  • Environmental justice skills - workers in this field will operate at the intersection of human rights and environmental rights. They will gain legal, social and historical awareness to ensure humanity does not repeat the mistakes of the past which led to racial and social injustice and poor environmental and social health.
  • Systems skills - the green economy will need workers who can design, operate and monitor a wide range of systems. They’ll need to assess systems against performance indicators and find ways to optimise and improve system operations. They’ll need skills in macroeconomics to build sustainability into long-term infrastructure projects.

 

Millions of new jobs and careers will be created in the green economy. But creating new jobs is only part of the equation. Developing an appropriately skilled workforce is critical. According to the World Economic Forum’s Davos Labs Youth Recovery Plan 2021, almost half of young people feel they don’t have the right skills, while the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020, highlighted employers estimate four in 10 workers will need to be reskilled. The report sets out 40 policy recommendations by young people aged between 20 and 30. These include offering tax credits to companies investing in reskilling or upskilling – and creating an online skills aggregator that pairs the future skills needs of cities with upskilling or reskilling initiatives.

Wellbeing

Nike giving head office staff a week's break

Staff at Nike's corporate headquarters in Oregon have been given a week off at the start of September to support their mental health, ahead of the return to the office. The US firm will ‘power down’ to give employees a rest after a tough year. It follows similar moves from dating app Bumble (who told its 700 staff worldwide to switch off and focus on themselves), Linkedin (who gave its workers a week off in April) and Citi Group, which said in March 2021 it would have ‘Zoom-free Fridays’ to combat pandemic fatigue. A growing number of employees have reported feeling burnt out as the pandemic drags on and many continue to work from home. Big US firms such as Apple, Uber and bank Wells Fargo have also delayed plans for staff to return to the office as infections surge across the US.

Nike’s Head of Insights, Matt Marrazzo, told staff not to work, saying, ‘it's not just a 'week off' for the team... it's an acknowledgement that we can prioritise mental health and still get work done’. According to reports, it also reflects that Nike has had a successful year, with sales up and its stock gaining 20%.

 

Belgian doctors prescribe museum visits for COVID stress

Doctors in Brussels will be able to prescribe museum visits as part a three-month trial designed to rebuild mental health amid the COVID pandemic. Patients being treated for stress at Brugmann Hospital, one of the largest in the Belgian capital, will be offered free visits to five public museums in the city, covering subjects from fashion to sewage. The results of the pilot will be published next year with the intention that the initiative can be rolled out further if successful in alleviating symptoms of burnout and other forms of psychiatric distress.

The initiative was inspired by a scheme in Quebec, Canada, where doctors can prescribe up to 50 museum visits a year to patients. In the Brussels pilot, accompanied visits will be prescribed to individuals and groups of in-patients at Brugmann Hospital. Similar ideas of social prescription, used to alleviate the suffering of people with dementia, have been trialled in the UK. An All-Party Parliamentary Group report recommended in 2017 that NHS trusts should incorporate arts on prescription into their plans and that doctors should be educated on the evidence of its benefits.

 

Gender diversity on boards

Women currently hold 19% of board positions in the US, while in European countries such as France, Norway, and Sweden, where legislative or voluntary targets are in place, they hold more than 30%. McKinsey recently conducted an analysis of companies in the S&P 500 to identify top performers in board diversity, defined as those with the highest percentage of women on their boards as of August 2016. It showed that women occupied at least 33% of board seats among the top 50 companies (up to nearly 60% or the highest percentage). In all, female representation on those boards has increased on average by 24 percentage points since 2005. The top performing companies included Accenture, Estee Lauder, General Motors, Hewlett Packard, Kellogg, Macy’s, Viacom and Wells Fargo.

McKinsey then conducted a series of interviews with the CEOs and board chairs from a number of those standout companies, as well as some European businesses that have made similar progress. What follows is a set of best practices to improve gender diversity on boards:

  • Make a visible commitment to diversity with sustained action throughout the organisation
  • Set new principles for decision making
  • Consider candidates with the right expertise, not just those with prior board experience
  • Expand your network to include more women and explicitly ask search fi­rms for female candidates.

 

Record number of employees are quitting in the US

More than 15 million US workers have quit their jobs since April 2021, a record high that is disrupting businesses everywhere. Companies are struggling to address the problem mainly because they don’t really understand why their employees are leaving. Rather than take the time to investigate the true causes of staff churn, many companies are jumping to well-meaning quick fixes that are not working e.g., they’re bumping up pay or financial perks without trying to strengthen the relational ties people have with their colleagues and their employers. This means employees sense a transaction instead of an appreciation. This transactional relationship reminds them that their real needs aren’t being met. Current staff shortages are having serious consequences for businesses, e.g., manufacturing plants are downshifting production as demand has surged, and packed container ships have idled in the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles due to lack of labour.

The past 18 months have shown that employees want investment in the human aspects of work. They are tired and want a renewed and revised sense of purpose in their work. Workers want social and interpersonal connections with their colleagues and managers. They want to feel a sense of shared identity. Yes, naturally they want pay, benefits, and perks, but mostly they want to feel valued by their organisations and managers. They want meaningful interactions.

A new global study of 5,500 workers and small-business leaders found the mass exodus is being driven mainly by members of Generation Z, those who have spent the least time in the workforce, and millennials. The study by software and data analytics company Adobe found that more than half of Gen Z respondents reported planning to seek a new job within the next year. The generation also reported being least satisfied with their jobs, 59%, and with their work-life balance, at 56%. Nearly two-thirds of them, 62%, said they felt the most pressure to work during ‘office hours’, even though they said they do their best work outside of normal office hours.

To better understand what’s driving voluntary attrition in the labour market, McKinsey conducted separate surveys of employers and of employees in Australia, Canada, Singapore, the UK, and the US. Both surveys spanned multiple industries. The employee survey included 5,774 people of working age; the employer survey, 250 managers specialising in talent (for instance, chief talent officers). These managers were evenly split between large and medium size organisations. The results show that the ‘great attrition’ is not limited to specific industries.

40% of employees surveyed said they are at least somewhat likely to quit in the next three to six months. 18% of the respondents said their intentions range from likely to almost certain. These findings held across all five countries surveyed and were broadly consistent across industries. Businesses in the leisure and hospitality industry are the most at risk for losing employees, but many healthcare and white-collar workers say they also plan to quit. Even among educators - those employees deemed least likely to say they may quit - almost a third reported they are at least somewhat likely to do so. Surprisingly, 36% of those who had quit in the past six months did so without having a new job in hand- rates were highest in the US (40%) and in the health and social care industry (42%). As worrying, 53% of the employers surveyed said that they are experiencing greater voluntary turnover than they had in previous years, and 64% expect the problem to continue, or worsen, over the next six months.

While 60% of the employees surveyed said they were not at all likely to quit in the next three to six months, employers shouldn’t consider them ‘safe’. Options are increasing, and with more and more employers offering remote-work choices for hard-to-source talent, these employees could change their intentions. Among the survey respondents who took new jobs in new cities during the past six months, almost 90% didn’t have to relocate, because so many more companies are allowing remote work.

To help manage staff turnover, employers should ask themselves:

  • Do we have leaders who motivate and inspire their teams?
  • Is our work environment transactional?
  • Are our benefits aligned with employee priorities? Among survey respondents who had left their jobs, 45% cited the need to take care of family as an influential factor in their decision
  • Can we provide employees with career paths and development opportunities? Employees are looking for jobs with better, stronger career trajectories. They desire both recognition and development
  • When rolling out mental health and employee wellness programmes, are these initiatives simply a box checking exercise, or are they genuine manifestations of a business’ concern for the workforce?
  • How are we building a sense of community?

 

US - majority of remote workers want to make it permanent

According to the results of a recent survey, nearly half of workers whose employers have a flexible remote work policy say it’s their most coveted employee perk, while more than 3 out of 4 would like to work from home permanently.

Researchers, on behalf of workplace solutions organisation Kintone, surveyed 2,000 individuals who are working remotely amid the COVID pandemic. 48% of respondents said they would rather work for an organisation with flexible remote work policies, while 72% indicated they wouldn’t even consider taking a job that lacks such arrangements.

Other findings included:

  • More than 70% of respondents said their work-life balance has improved while working remotely, although 36% find it more difficult to fulfil job tasks while working from home
  • 45% of the respondents expressed happiness with scheduling flexibility under remote work operations, and 44% said they appreciate the opportunity to take breaks at any time
  • Leading drawbacks of working from home cited by the respondents were difficulty communicating with colleagues (36%), lacking the right office equipment (35%) and having too many distractions (34%).
  • Respondents said multiple employer interventions could help boost work performance, including amending company policies on work hours and expectations (46%), reimbursing internet or other utility expenses (43%), and providing a new computer or laptop (41%).

 

Amazon offers to pay college fees for 750,000 US staff

Amazon, the largest job creator in the US, has offered to cover the cost of college tuition of all 750,000 of its frontline workers in the US. It comes as the online shopping giant struggles to attract and retain staff amid an industry wide labour shortage. The firm said it would invest $1.2bn in the scheme, with workers able to access the annual funding for as long as they remain at Amazon. Amazon is the latest big firm to offer to fund workers' education after similar moves by Walmart and Target. It said it would also cover other types of education including high school diplomas and English language courses, as well as extending on-the-job career training to 300,000.

Last month, Walmart said it would pay the costs of tuition and books for its hourly staffers, with about 1.5 million people eligible. While Target said it would offer free undergraduate degrees to more than 340,000 employees at its US stores.

India

Renault-Nissan ordered to pay additional wages

An Indian arbitrator has issued an order asking Nissan Motor Co. to pay its factory workers additional wages, despite warnings from the automaker that a higher pay out could make its business ‘unviable in the long run’. The tribunal has ordered Renault-Nissan to pay its 3,542 workers an average of over Rs 7,100 ($96) a month in backdated pay as interim relief, according to an order seen by Reuters on 16 August. Nissan and its union have been locked in an industrial arbitration dispute since July after the two sides failed to reach a mutual agreement over several issues including higher wages. A previous wage agreement expired in March 2019.

The payments, higher than the consortium's initial offer of $30 a month, but lower than the union's demand of $270, would cost Renault-Nissan about $9.53 million in total. The arbitrator will continue to hear over 50 other demands by the workers, which if agreed to, could together cost the company 93% more per worker, Nissan said in a statement to Reuters, it was committed to offering a competitive package to its workers and was open to a retrospective payment at its southern India plant.

The ruling comes despite arguments by Renault-Nissan that it is making ‘huge losses’ in India and has ‘no financial capacity’ to meet the demands. Any pressure to pay higher wages ‘could potentially make the very sustenance of the unit unviable in the long run’, the carmaker said in its 147-page filing to the arbitrator in July. The workers' demands include higher basic pay, an annual increment of 500 rupees, a hike in allowances and insurance cover, and appointing an additional member in assembly lines to cover for workers taking restroom breaks. Nissan said the union’s demand did not consider the business reality, market salary range and affordability.

US

OSHA investigates retaliatory action against whistle-blowers

In November 2017, two railroad workers at a railyard in Waycross, Georgia, encountered and reported a blue flag that signalled their train could not move safely. For their actions, CSX Transportation Inc. pulled them from the job and later fired them. Both actions were found to be illegal in a Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigation.

OSHA ordered CSX Transportation Inc. (a subsidiary of CSX Corp. and one of the nation’s largest transportation service providers) to pay the employees $667,740 plus legal fees. The amount represents back pay from the time of their removal in November 2017 through September 2019, and costs incurred by the workers to include interest on the back wages, and compensatory and punitive damages. CSX must also restore both workers’ seniority and the benefits they would have received had they not been dismissed. In addition, OSHA ordered the employer to provide retirement credit, vacation time and personal leave days that the employees would have earned.

OSHA Regional Administrator, Kurt Petermeyer, said ‘CSX Transportation violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act, which gives employees the right to report safety concerns without fear of retaliation. The employer’s retaliatory actions are illegal, and OSHA is committed to ensuring that workers are protected when they exercise their rights to report workplace hazards’.

This is the third OSHA whistle-blower merit finding in 10 months related to CSX retaliating against workers who reported safety concerns. In July 2021, OSHA ordered the employer to pay $221,976 in back wages, interest and damages to a worker terminated in New Orleans for reporting safety concerns. In October 2020, OSHA ordered CSX to reinstate an employee and pay more than $95,000 in back wages and $75,000 in punitive damages after a worker in Rebecca, Georgia, reported an unsafe customer gate and an on-the-job injury. Similar whistle-blower investigations resulted in reinstatements and payment of back wages and damages in the New York area in 2016 and 2010.

 

OSHA investigates Ohio automotive steel manufacturer

Responding to a complaint of unsafe working conditions, OSHA inspectors found a Canton automotive steel mill did not install adequate machine guarding, implement lockout/ tagout measures or train workers on safety procedures, all of which exposed workers to amputation hazards.

OSHA cited Republic Steel for one repeat, seven serious and three other-than-serious safety violations. It determined the company did not train workers to operate cranes and forklifts adequately, failed to repair damaged cranes and follow safe electrical work practices, and exposed workers to slip and fall hazards. OSHA has proposed $220,399 in penalties and placed the company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program. It last cited Republic Steel for similar machine safety hazards in 2017. OSHA Area Director Howard Eberts in Cleveland said, ‘Republic Steel is well aware of their responsibility to ensure safety procedures are followed, yet once again, they’ve failed to do so’.

Based in Canton, Ohio Republic Steel manufactures steel bars and other products for use in machinery, cars, trucks and other vehicles. The company, a subsidiary of Grupo Simec of Guadalajara, Mexico, employs more than 2,000 workers. The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s Area Director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics noted 58% of the 3,500 reported workplace amputations involved machine hazards.

 

US/ Mexico alliance to promote workplace safety and health in the construction industry

In their ongoing efforts to protect the safety and health of construction workers, the US Department of Labor and the Consulate General of Mexico in Las Vegas have signed an alliance to provide hazard prevention training to Mexican nationals working in Nevada, and help them understand US laws governing workers’ rights and employers’ responsibilities. For the next two years, OSHA and the consulate will provide Spanish-language training resources on topics related to whistle-blower protections, falls from elevated work surfaces, electrocution, heat illness and exposure to hazardous chemicals.

An implementation team made up of representatives of OSHA and the Mexican Consulate will work to develop a plan of action, determine working procedures, and identify the roles and responsibilities of the participants. In addition, the participants intend to meet at least three times per year to track and share information on activities and results in achieving the goals of the alliance.

OSHA’s Alliance Program works with groups committed to worker safety and health to prevent workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses. These groups include unions, consulates, trade or professional organisations, businesses, faith- and community-based organisations, and educational institutions. OSHA and the groups work together to develop compliance assistance tools and resources, share information with workers and employers, and educate workers and employers about their rights and responsibilities.

 

Steelworkers Union calls on EPA to strengthen chemical safety rule

United Steelworkers is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to bolster its Risk Management Program Reconsideration final rule to enhance worker protections. In comments submitted to the agency in July, USW urged the EPA to take several steps the union believes will prevent future incidents at chemical facilities. Those steps include:

  • Requiring facilities to involve workers and their representatives in the prevention of catastrophic releases, and sharing all information related to an incident and its prevention.
  • Reinstating root cause analysis for chemical releases and near misses.
  • Reinserting third-party compliance audits as part of the RMP rule and completing audits after any incident meeting the definition of a catastrophic release.
  • Requiring industries outside of the chemical, petroleum and paper manufacturing sectors to perform a safer technology and alternatives analysis of the processes and chemicals they use, as well as judge the impact of a worst-case chemical release to communities surrounding RMP facilities and order those sites to review safer chemicals and processes.
  • Coordinating with other agencies to harmonise lists of dangerous chemicals, update EPA’s list of regulated substances, and require facilities to evaluate the risk of a reactive chemical incident and to take appropriate action even if the chemicals aren’t on the EPA’s list.

An Executive Order issued by President Biden in January 2021 mandated a review of the rule. After taking effect in December 2019, the Risk Management Plan final rule eliminated various provisions in the original rule intended to prevent future incidents at chemical facilities.

 

Protections for temporary workers

NIOSH and the American Staffing Association have announced a multiyear partnership agreement to advance protections for temporary workers. Safety remains a challenge for this often-vulnerable segment of the workforce.

The partnership will focus on promoting best practices, supporting the application of research to practice, and encouraging staffing companies and host employers to develop and use safety and health management programs – as well as effective technologies and prevention strategies. Temp workers are paid by a staffing company and assigned to work for a host employer company.

Goals of the partnership include:

  • Advancing research and understanding of the value of occupational safety and health
  • Exploring areas of joint research to better understand and promote the safety and health of temp workers
  • Developing information about the recognition and prevention of workplace hazards and disseminating it to staffing companies, host employers and temp workers through various communication channels
  • Promoting translation of research results and implementation of injury and illness prevention strategies and technologies among staffing agencies and host employers to protect temp workers.