HR world today (20210701)

As time passes and new waves of COVID-19 give rise to even more lockdowns, it is difficult to determine whether such patterns are due to slow vaccination roll-out programmes, or just the lack of precaution by those still not vaccinated. Certainly, employers are left unable to plan for a return to normal working until cases fall substantially and consistently stay at low levels.

It is now exactly two years since FedEE warned companies at a meeting in London about the risks of a coming pandemic. In that innocent era it was easy to dismiss such a prospect and keep the focus on narrow HR concerns. Yet now we must all live with the prospect that some form of contagious health threat will be with us, possibly indefinitely. The greatest danger is, however, not that we shall ignore such threats, but not see others on the horizon – or believe that they are not really something that will affect our organisation within our corner of the World.

It is true, of course, that if we became too mindful of every possible threat we would be unable to function at all. Neither is it possible to plan for every contingency. However, one major change brought about by the pandemic has been the changing role of HR professionals. Gone is the past insularity and administrative focus and in their place a much more profound awareness of macro threats and obligations. One of these for multinational enterprises must be supply chain concerns. Modern slavery laws requiring the production of annual reports exist only in the UK and Australia. However, California has long-standing legislation against human trafficking in supply chains and other jurisdictions are likely soon to follow suit. In this issue, we point out labour standards issues in Brazil‘s huge tobacco production industry – something that is equally applicable to numerous third world suppliers of crops and raw materials.

We at FedEE have begun to monitor post-pandemic developments, especially as they interact with other pre-existing trends such as labour displacing technologies and the rise of the gig economy. The latest notes from our reviews may be viewed here. In this Newswire, we illustrate the importance of wider strategic issues from the dangers of nuclear proliferation in Afghanistan to the undermining of an independent judiciary in Kenya and the growth of commuting and the environment as IR issues in France. Fundamental legal principles too are at stake in the USA where it is no longer possible to use “prohibited purpose” as the basis for disciplining employees for computer misuse and the removal of “intention” as a factor in South African discrimination cases. We also illustrate how even largely employee-orientated reforms will engender union opposition in Greece and how employers in Germany must now take even more steps to accommodate ill or disabled employees returning to work through an “integration management action”.

Whilst larger nations close off their visa systems due to lockdowns and major industrial countries focus their attention on fighting tax evasion, many smaller countries are busy opening up their labour markets to a new form of expat tax-free skilled employment – the “digital nomad”. This will appeal both to self-employed and employed workers who just need an Internet connection to ply their trade. In previous issues, we have outlined schemes from places as far apart as Antigua and Barbuda, Costa Rica and Estonia. Now two more countries are offering similar schemes – Cape Verde, Malta and Seychelles. In most cases, stays are limited to twelve months, but in others – such as Mauritius – the government is encouraging nomads to stay. Could this be the ultimate consequence of distant working?

Just one final word of warning, however, about this new option. Businesses sponsoring employees to become digital nomads could unwittingly find that they are setting up an “establishment” in the far-off location – with all the corporate tax and accounting scrutiny issues which that entails.

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