Gillian looks at the benefits of E-Learning for organisations in her latest blog post. If you would like to learn more or receive a demonstration on Gravitate HR’s E-Learning module, then please contact one of our advisers in Edinburgh or Glasgow.
The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force on 25th May 2018. With our GDPR toolkit, Gravitate HR can help your organisation prepare for the new regulations by providing an E-learning module for all staff, a tailored GDPR Policy, and the relevant template correspondence.
You can contact one of our advisors in Edinburgh or Glasgow for further details.
A Japanese insurance firm has announced plans to replace more than 30 employees with artificial intelligence (AI) robots. Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance will make 34 employees redundant by the end of March this year to be replaced by a system based on IBM’s Watson Explorer.
The tech giant claims the Watson Explorer possesses “cognitive technology that can think like a human, allowing it to analyse and interpret all of your data, including unstructured text, images, audio and video”.
According to a report in the Japanese press, several other insurance companies are in the process of introducing AI systems. Dai-ichi Life Insurance Co. has already introduced an AI system to process payment assessment alongside human checks. The adoption of the new technology at Dai-ichi however, has not resulted in any major job losses.
Fukoku Mutual believes the introduction of the AI system will increase productivity by 30% and provide a return on its investment within two years. The system is expected to cost 200m yen (£1.4m) and save around 140m yen (£1m) per year. Maintaining the new system is expected to cost around 15m yen (£100k) per year.
A 2015 report by the Nomura Research Institute found that robots had the potential to perform nearly half of all jobs in Japan within the next 20 years. Furthermore, a World Economic Forum report from last year predicted that increased use of AI will lead to a loss of over 5 million jobs over the next 5 years in the world’s 15 leading economies.
The Japanese Government is due to trial the use of AI to assist civil servants in the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. According to the Guardian, if the trial is successful, then it could be something that is adopted by other government departments.
Japan is renowned for its ability in AI and robotics technology and the country has long been at the forefront of the development in this field. Added to the fact that Japan has an ageing and shrinking population, it is not difficult to see why there are moves being made for robots to fill possible labour shortages in the country. Although, it may be sometime before we see masses of humanoid robots walking the streets as seen in Will Smith’s i, ROBOT.
In the last couple of decades, many academics, business leaders, and politicians have been commenting on Globalisation and the concept of the ‘borderless world’ that we are living in today. This is the idea that capital, goods, services, and people can move freely between different nation states, as well as the enhanced power of multinational companies who are able to operate in several different countries. Many academics were arguing as recently as ten years ago that globalisation was unanimously viewed as a good thing by states and the people that lived in them. If this statement was true ten years ago, it is hard to argue that this view remains the same on the back of the ‘Brexit’ vote and Trump’s victory.
The free movement of people to the UK from Eastern European countries was arguably the most important issue during the EU Referendum. Nigel Farage had frequently argued that this “globalised world” meant that the UK could not control the number of people coming into the country and that British nationals were being deprived of employment because of this. Meanwhile, in the US, Donald Trump was a harsh critic of America’s trade deals and even indicated that he would take the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal on his first day of office.
What effect could these events have on UK businesses?
I think the most interesting question surrounds the possible restrictions on the movement of labour and the effect that it might have on the skill levels of UK workforces. I am aware of one example of a prominent specialist engineering company that requires manual machinists to carry out their work. When you consider that the UK is dominated by automatic machinery, the pool in the UK for manual machinists has become so narrow that such talent comes at a high price, and the company decided it would be more sensible to recruit talent from Poland where manual machinery is a common trade. Therefore, if the freedom of movement is restricted to such an extent that Polish nationals find it difficult to move to the UK or are even forced to return to their homeland, this company could be faced with high recruitment costs or the need to upskill a significant proportion of their workforce.
This is just speculation at this moment in time as Article 50 has not yet been triggered, but hopefully 2017 will provide a clearer picture of what changes we can expect.
What does 2017 have in store?
It will be interesting to see if this assault on Globalisation continues in 2017. Aside from the ‘Brexit’ vote and a Trump Presidency, there are elections in the EU’s two main players. Angela Merkel will be running to be re-elected as Chancellor of Germany and Marine Le Pen of the National Front seems to be in a two-horse race with Francois Fillon to become the President of France. A Merkel defeat or a Le Pen victory would certainly be a significant blow to the EU.
If a similar trend continues in 2017, we could well see radical changes to the environment that businesses operate in with significant implications for the way in which they recruit talent as well as possibly ‘upskilling’ or ‘deskilling’ their workforce.
The festive period is the busiest time of the year for most businesses, particularly for those that operate within the retail sector. A perfect example of this is Amazon. Amazon was founded in 1994 by American entrepreneur Jeff Bezos and is the largest Internet-based retailer in the world in both total sales and market share. As of December 2016, Bezos is worth an estimated $65.7 billion.
Responding to the Christmas rush
Leading up to Christmas, consumer demand for products from Amazon reaches an extremely high level and the operational logistics function of the business is placed under massive pressure as a result. Like many other retail organisations during this period, Amazon will normally recruit temporary warehouse staff or indeed offer an increase in seasonal hours for their existing warehouse employees in order to respond to this increased demand. In Scotland, Amazon has two ‘Fulfilment Centres’ – one in Dunfermline and another in Gourock in the West of Scotland. In fact, Amazon’s warehouse in Dunfermline is the biggest in the UK at 1,000,000 square feet – the size of 14 football pitches – and employs approximately 1,500 permanent staff.
However, Amazon has frequently received criticism for their treatment of workers and this trend seems to be continuing after it emerged in the media that some warehouse staff were camping out in freezing temperatures next to the Dunfermline warehouse because they could not afford the costs of travelling to work from their homes in Perth, which is roughly 30 miles away.
Amazon: A history of bad practices?
As mentioned earlier, criticism of Amazon over their treatment of workers in the UK is not a new phenomenon. In 2013, a BBC Panorama documentary revealed the tough working conditions for their employees at one of their warehouses. Amazon employees were subjected to intense working practices as well as strict performance measures. Indeed, one of the experts in the documentary remarked that such conditions could “increase the likelihood of mental illness as well as physical illness”, with trade unions also describing worker conditions as among the “worst in Britain”. These recent developments are likely to attract even more criticism and perhaps convince people that the company does not take worker wellbeing seriously, despite making public statements that it was their “number one priority”.
Given the fact that the main reason for these individuals deciding to camp outside in freezing temperatures was that they could not afford to travel to work, there have been calls for Amazon to start paying their staff members the voluntary Living Wage. The company has responded by stating that they pay their associates £7.35 an hour with an £11 an hour overtime rate.
Labour Costs Versus Profit Maximisation
This situation once again highlights the perceived conflict between the cost of labour and a company’s bottom line, and the relatively new concept of a Living Wage has added another dimension to the debate.
A recent survey of over 150 accredited Living Wage Employers in Scotland produced some interesting statistics: 67% of employers found Living Wage accreditation had a positive impact on staff retention; 66% thought it had a positive impact on recruitment; 78% felt it had a positive impact on staff morale/motivation; and 55% thought it had a positive impact on productivity.
On this basis, companies (particularly ones as large as Amazon) should have no qualms with increasing their basic wage rate for staff. However, one could perhaps argue that, when considering the popular service that Amazon offers, are consumers really going to be put off by stories like this to the extent that they stop purchasing goods from the company? So, is there any real incentive for Amazon to make effective changes apart from improving their reputation as an employer?
Whatever solution Amazon produces, we can only hope that having to camp in freezing temperatures is no longer viewed as a necessity by workers in order to make work pay.
It would be wise for employers to recognise that it is becoming more common for what is termed “covert” recording during disciplinary and grievance proceeding by employees. That is, employees are taking it upon themselves to secretly record the meeting, without the knowledge of the other participants.
So, what do the Employment Tribunals say? Are these “covert” recordings admissible or not?
Secret recordings taken by an employee during a disciplinary hearing or a meeting will generally be admissible evidence where all parties are present. Where an employee continues to secretly record, when they have left the room and captures private discussions between the manager and HR, a tribunal will tend to frown on this and not accept this as evidence.
What steps can an employer take?
You may want to clearly state in your company policy that employees are not permitted to record meetings.
You may want to consider recording all meetings.
When meetings are adjourned ask/ensure employees and their representatives take their belongings with them.
Ask the employee if they are recording the meeting and if appropriate ask the employee to show you their phone to make sure.
And, assume that you are being recorded during the meeting.