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Key employment law updates | October 2021

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Government announce short-term visas for HGV food drivers and poultry workers

On 11 October 2021, the government published Statement of Changes to Immigration Rules; CP 524 to allow poultry workers and people undertaking haulage driving work involving transportation of food goods to come to the UK.

The new visas will come under the existing Seasonal Workers route which falls within the Temporary Worker immigration category. The Home Office has highlighted that this is a short-term solution and the visas are a time limited provision. A scheme operator will be required to recruit such temporary workers as, in most instances, there is not time for employers to apply for a sponsorship licence themselves. Businesses looking to recruit temporary workers in these categories are encouraged to contact any of the four scheme operators. It is noted that application process is likely to differ for each operator.

The temporary visa will be available for 4,700 HGV food drivers and 5,500 poultry workers. Poultry workers under the temporary visa scheme must apply by 15 November 2021 and if successful, will be granted permission until 31 December 2021. HGV drivers under the temporary visa scheme must apply by 1 December 2021, and if successful, will be granted permission until 28 February 2022.

Whether the emergency scheme will address some of the supply chain issues depends  on many factors, including if migrant workers are financially incentivised by a three-month visa and whether the Home Office will be able to process the applications efficiently to allow their work in the UK to have a positive impact.

GPs see increase in work-related stress

Research has found that almost all GPs have seen an increase in the number of patients seeking help for work-related stress since the start of the pandemic. Sadly, the survey of 252 GPs carried out by Censuswide (on behalf of Perkbox) found that 92% had seen more people come through their doors looking for medical advice about work-related stress and anxiety, with 68% reporting an increase in the last three months. The survey also found that 80% of GPs agreed that the worse is yet to come and expect that the demand will increase further.

The survey also found that 39% of patients that seek help for work related stress were signed off from work which the research said represented a 'huge hit to productivity'.

The top three most reported contributing factors to work-related anxiety were financial insecurity (45%), returning to the workplace (43%) and increasing workloads (39%). 73% of GPs said their patients referenced ineffective employer wellbeing strategies when reporting workplace stress. With many businesses struggling to recruit into various roles, keeping the existing workforce efficient and happy is vital, but with the new ways of working (often remotely) comes many challenges. Employers are encouraged to think about how best they can support their staff to prevent that hit to productivity or its service. 

Pension Regulator, TRP, warns gig economy to follow pension rules or risk enforcement

The Pension Regulator has warned the gig economy employers that they must 'voluntarily and promptly' comply with their auto-enrolment obligations or risk enforcement action. A spokesperson for TRP said that 'it is only right all workers contributing to the economy receive the pension they are entitled to'.

This comes after Uber recently announced its plan to offer a pension scheme provided by NOW: Pensions to all its eligible UK drivers, following the Supreme Court's ruling that Uber drivers were 'workers' and therefore qualified for auto-enrolment. Uber has urged rivals to join a cross-industry pension scheme so we shall keep this under review and report any updates once available.  

Rising starting salaries and mental health support in benefit packages

Employers are offering rising starting salaries and prioritising mental health support in benefit packages to attract and retain staff.

Starting salaries for both temporary and permanent positions have risen at its sharpest rate in over 24 years. Research by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) shows that hiring has continued to rise rapidly and that as candidate availability has declined, businesses have been driven to offer higher starting pay. The survey of 400 recruitment firms also found that the number of people available for jobs has fallen to a near-record low, which is therefore driving the big increases in starting pay.

Additional research by XpertHR has also found that 59.4% of UK organisations are offering mental health support in benefit packages. This comes as part of a wider effort to prioritise employee wellbeing. The most obvious way for employers to attract talent is through distinct employment terms and conditions which differ to its competitors. We are not surprised to hear that businesses are not only increasing starting salaries but also looking at the wider package on offer, to distinguish themselves.