Remote working remains one of the biggest potentially long-term operational outcomes of the health crisis and in this edition we chart its growth over the last year in countries as far apart as Estonia and Chile, together with its development globally in law firms. The pressure of continuously taking video calls has also now led the bank Citigroup to declare a video-free day. The prospect of returning to work in an office is giving rise to fears and anxieties. We consider several options for employers to achieve the transition.
Companies continue to ask how far they can oblige employees to comply with COVID-19 testing and vaccination programmes. Several governments have now stepped in with an answer – with Greece and Germany requiring regular testing before returning to work. Vaccination is proving difficult to enforce in Russia and elsewhere, but employers in Germany and the USA are using incentive payments to ensure compliance.
A number of strategic issues have been raised recently in the field of labour relations. Thus, the US-based EPI think tank has reported on the decline in collective bargaining and its consequence for wage rates, the Dublin-based European Foundation has been asking why industrial dispute levels have been falling, and the ETUC executive committee has expressed concerns about collective bargaining becoming seen as an anti-trust activity.
Restrictive covenants have been under the spotlight too and in this issue we report on a 10-year non-compete period found legitimate in the USA and important court case in China that tested whether to be so restricted actually requires an ex-employee to be directly employed by a rival company. The UK Greensill affair has also raised questions about how effectively organisations protect themselves from reputational and other damage by letting employees undertake second jobs.
Where companies have a presence in certain countries they will soon need to tackle major legal challenges. In Mexico, the law on insourcing is going to have a big impact on how some companies employ their staff, whilst the onward march of localization in Saudi Arabia is placing substantial limits on the use of immigrant and expat workers. Italian employers are having to challenge demands for INPS back payments in respect to older workers and many Spanish employers face the prospect of dealing with unions for the first time in order to draw up equality plans.
As we look ahead the darkest clouds hang not only over the pandemic and rising unemployment levels, but over hyperinflation. We see its possible first signs in the Brazil, Germany, UK and USA. For many people in the west, the last time hyperinflation was experienced was back in the 1970s. That means few will be prepared for the huge impact that runaway prices can have. Hyperinflation not only eats into savings and reduces living standards, but also engenders labour chaos, flattens productivity and causes widespread social unrest. Most damagingly, it gives rise to a viscous circle that is difficult to control or eradicate, except through a prolonged austerity programme. After a series of pandemic lockdowns this will be the last any of us wish to experience anytime soon.