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UK Edition
15th September 2021
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Job vacancies in UK hit a record high
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that job vacancies in the UK have hit a record high, with the number of available posts rising above 1m in the three months to August. The ONS report also shows that employee numbers were back at pre-Covid levels in August, while monthly payrolls increased by 241,000 to 29.1m. The UK unemployment rate fell 0.3% in the quarter and now stands at 4.6%. ONS deputy statistician Jonathan Athow said: "Early estimates from payroll data suggest that in August the total number of employees is around the same level as before the pandemic, though our surveys show well over a million are still on furlough." Commenting on the ONS data, Suren Thiru, head of economics at the British Chambers of Commerce, said firms are facing an "acute hiring crisis," and warned that with Brexit and COVID-19 “driving a more deep-seated decline in labour supply, the end of furlough is unlikely to be a silver bullet to the ongoing shortages.” He added that recruitment difficulties “are likely to dampen the recovery by limiting firms' ability to fulfil orders and meet customer demand." Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, urged ministers to act to “solve this crisis," saying the Government should work with business to improve training opportunities, as well as allowing some flexibility in the immigration system. Looking ahead, Yael Selfin, chief economist at KPMG, said: “While the pressure should ease as more people look to return to work and the furlough scheme ends, the UK labour market is set to remain choppy with vacancies taking time to fill due to skills shortages and reduced availability of overseas workers.”
Uber loses court fight in Netherlands over drivers' rights
A court in the Netherlands has ruled that Uber drivers are employees and not contractors, and are thus entitled to greater workers' rights under local labour laws. The Amsterdam District Court sided with the Federation of Dutch Trade Unions (FNV), which had argued that the ride-hailing company's roughly 4,000 drivers in the Dutch capital should enjoy benefits in line with the taxi sector. The court’s decision comes months after a similar UK court ruling led to the San Francisco-headquartered firm agreeing a groundbreaking union deal in Britain. "The legal relationship between Uber and these drivers meets all the characteristics of an employment contract," and drivers are covered by a collective labour agreement for taxi drivers, the court said, adding "This means that Uber is obligated to institute a labour contract with drivers . . . and therefore means these drivers are entitled to backpay in certain circumstances."  The judges also ordered Uber to pay €50,000 ($59,000) in damages to the FNV for not adhering to a collective labour agreement. Uber said it would appeal the ruling. "We are disappointed with this decision because we know that the overwhelming majority of drivers wish to remain independent," Maurits Schoenfeld, Uber’s Northern Europe general manager, said, adding "Drivers don’t want to give up their freedom to choose if, when and where to work." The FNV welcomed the ruling. "Due to the judge's ruling, the Uber drivers are now automatically employed by Uber," said Zakaria Boufangacha, FNV's deputy chairman. "As a result, they will receive more wages and more rights in the event of dismissal or illness, for example."

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Amazon hires Twitter executive to lead on diversity
Amazon has appointed Twitter executive Candi Castleberry Singleton as vice president of global diversity, equity and inclusion. In the role, she will be charged with helping Amazon meet diversity goals it laid out in April, with the firm looking to double the number of Black leaders at the company and increase the number of women in senior tech roles by 30%. Amazon has faced at least six lawsuits this year claiming racial bias, gender bias or both filed by women who worked in corporate or warehouse management roles. Castleberry Singleton said in a company memo: "If we get this right, together we can create a greater sense of inclusion not only within Amazon, but for Amazon customers around the world."
BDO hires record number of trainees
BDO has hired over 450 new trainees into its audit team this year, with the firm adding more than 600 new trainees across all departments since the start of 2021. This marks the firm’s biggest ever intake. BDO, which added that it plans to hire a further 50 industrial year-long placement students, said in a statement that the move demonstrated the firm’s “continued investment” in its audit practice. 
Shop staff attacked over empty shelves
Supermarket workers are seeing a rise in customer abuse over empty shelves in stores. More than one in three retail workers say stock shortages have led to customers taking their frustration out on them. A report by law firm Foot Anstey shows almost two in three shop staff have experienced offensive behaviour at work since the pandemic, but it has become even more widespread since restrictions on masks and social distancing were eased on July 19th. Nathan Peacey, Partner and Head of Retail and Consumer at Foot Anstey said: “Retail workers told us they felt there were not enough laws in place to protect them. It is essential that existing laws are enforced, or new ones brought in."
The flexibility factor: who is going back to the office?
The FT looks at return-to-work policies at some large companies, saying professional services firms including the Big Four “tend to have a higher flexibility factor” than peers in other sectors.
Morrisons and CD&R reach pension agreement
Clayton Dubilier & Rice has reached an agreement with Morrisons pension trustees to provide additional security to its schemes as the private equity firm looks to secure its £7bn takeover of the supermarket chain. As a result of the agreement, CD&R said that the schemes would be "some of the best-funded and best-supported in the UK." The deal comes after trustees warned that a debt-fuelled buyout would "materially weaken" its retirement schemes. CD&R remains in a bidding war with rival US firm Fortress for the chain, which is currently set to end in an auction.
Afghan women should not work alongside men, senior Taliban figure says
A senior figure in the Taliban has said Afghan women should not be allowed to work alongside men. Waheedullah Hashimi said that the Taliban would fully implement its version of sharia, or Islamic law, despite international pressure  to allow women the right to work where they want. Reuters notes that such a stance, if formally implemented, would effectively prohibit employment for women in government offices, banks, media companies and elsewhere. Hashimi said in an interview: "Sharia ... does not allow men and women to get together or sit together under one roof,” adding "Men and women cannot work together. That is clear. They are not allowed to come to our offices and work in our ministries." Reuters says that the issue of women in the workplace is of major importance to the international community and could affect the amount of aid and other assistance that is delivered to help the battered Afghan economy.
Volkswagen wants to tighten its grip on a joint venture in China
Volkswagen’s bid to tighten its grip on a majority-owned joint venture in China has “rattled” the German automaker's other Chinese partners, who want VW to commit more models to their own ventures and fear they could otherwise be sidelined, reports Reuters, citing sources familiar with the matter. The Wolfsburg-headquartered carmaker secured a controlling 75% stake in a venture with China's JAC in 2020 after the Chinese government eased rules that had hitherto barred foreign firms from owning majority stakes in local auto companies. It is now in talks to buy another JAC plant in a significant expansion in electric vehicles (EV), three sources with knowledge of the matter said, and is planning to relocate hundreds of Beijing-based staff to the eastern city of Hefei, according to Volkswagen sources and a memo seen by Reuters, which says that beer gardens are being introduced around the facility to create a German atmosphere for staff.
Tax Court sought to steer Jewish judge from cases involving Muslims
The Globe and Mail reports that while the Canadian Judicial Council was probing several complaints against Tax Court Justice David Spiro late last year, the court revealed it was screening counsel and litigants to prevent members of the Islamic faith from being involved in cases before him. Justice Spiro would recuse himself immediately, even late in a case – “from any file at any time” – if anyone involved appeared to be of the Muslim faith, Tax Court Chief Justice Eugene Rossiter said in a letter to the judicial council. The policy was for “perception purposes,” the chief justice's letter said. Scholars such as Peter Russell, an emeritus professor in the University of Toronto's political science department, said such screening for religious affiliation is unprecedented.
Sunak: Private equity M&A boom highlights confidence in UK economy
Chancellor Rishi Sunak says private equity firms’ interest in British listed companies points to “a sign of confidence in the UK economy.” Speaking at a conference promoting tech companies, the Chancellor was asked about potential long-term dangers to businesses being taken private. He offered that if international investors are keen to invest their capital in the UK, “that is something that is good news for our economy,” adding: “And that’s what you’re seeing.” Data from the Office for National Statistics show that the value of deals in which a foreign buyer acquired a UK company hit £19.4bn in Q1 and surged to £27.7bn in the second quarter. However, the volume of M&A deals involving UK firms fell 31% over the quarter, dipping to 381 in Q2 from 556 in Q1.

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