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Middle East Edition
25th January 2023
Israeli tech workers protest against planned judicial reform
Hundreds of tech workers in Israel held a one-hour strike on Tuesday to protest the government's plans to overhaul the judicial system. Many Israeli companies and organisations gave permission for their employees to attend demonstrations held around the country. “Without democracy, there is no high tech” and “No freedom, no, high tech” read some of the signs held by the striking workers. “It's not every day that we see high-tech men and women, and many more from the private sector, who pause their work to wave a warning flag together because our democracy is in danger. And if democracy is in danger, the economy is in danger,” said Yinon Costica, co-founder of Israeli software giant Wix, who spoke at the protest. “Our concern is the trust of foreign investors, foreign clients and foreign workers,” he said, adding “That same trust that was built with great labour can very easily fade away because of one very bad piece of legislation that overrides the courts.” Companies that allowed their workers to join the protest against the contentious legislative changes advanced by Justice Minister Yariv Levin included Lemonade, Natural Intelligence, Redis, HoneyBook and Forter.
Remote work saves global commuters 72 minutes a day, study finds
Remote work saves commuters around the world 72 minutes a day, according to a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Working from home is saving the most time in China, freeing up 102 minutes a day. Workers in Serbia saw the smallest savings of 51 minutes; those in the US had a comparatively low 55 minutes spared. Egyptian workers saved 73 minutes. The study nevertheless shows that businesses are the biggest beneficiaries of the travel time savings, with workers devoting 40% of their saved time toward primary and secondary jobs. About a third of saved time was directed toward leisure activities and 11% went to caregiving, the study found.
Meeting to discuss Qatari labour sector issues
Qatari labour minister Dr. Ali bin Smaikh Al Marri  has met with Director General of the Arab Labor Organization (ALO) Fayez Ali Al Mutairi to discuss cooperation in order to better address labour sector issues in the Arab countries, and examine ways to further support and develop the sector.
Bahrain’s unemployment rate decreased in December 2022
Bahrain's unemployment rate fell by 7.7% in 2021 to 5.4% in December 2022, the Cabinet heard on Tuesday. The Cabinet also reviewed a memorandum from Cabinet Affairs Minister Hamad Al Malki about the performance of government agencies across the ‘Sijilat’, ‘Tawasul’, and ‘Benayat’ systems in 2022, which remain vital indicators of government service efficiency.
Will Ardern’s decision move the needle on workplace mental health?
The BBC’s Josie Cox wonders whether Jacinda Ardern’s announcement that she would stand down as New Zealand’s Prime Minister could encourage more action by employers on workplace mental health. Ardern on January 19th said that she no longer had enough “in the tank” to do her job justice after more than five years in office. She didn’t explicitly refer to burnout as the reason for her decision to quit politics, but the public and media have widely interpreted her resignation speech as a reference to it. “I believe her transparency and authenticity in communicating her decision to resign moves the discourse towards normalising being human at work – at any level,” says Natasha Velikoselskiy, executive coach, organisational psychologist and adjunct assistant professor of business at Columbia Business School. But others don’t think that Ardern’s resignation will precipitate positive change. “[Arden speaking out] opens the conversation, but it won’t change the root cause of the issue,” explains Adela Hussain, a London-based management consultant and entrepreneur. “Most people overwork because they are influenced by their culture, social policy or poorly defined roles.”
3M to cut 2,500 manufacturing jobs as consumer demand slows
Industrial giant 3M has announced plans to cut 2,500 manufacturing jobs worldwide as it predicts last year’s fourth quarter slowdown will persist through the first half of this year. The company, which has been battling with higher labour and energy costs, said it would continue to adjust its manufacturing levels and maintain spending discipline until sales volumes bounce back following slowing demand for consumer and electronic items.
Microsoft to invest billions in ChatGPT maker OpenAI
Microsoft has announced a multibillion dollar investment in artificial intelligence (AI) as it extends its partnership with OpenAI, the creator of popular image generation tool Dall-E and the chatbot ChatGPT. In 2019, Microsoft invested $1bn in the company. “We formed our partnership with OpenAI around a shared ambition to responsibly advance cutting-edge AI research,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wrote in a blog post. “In this next phase of our partnership, developers and organisations across industries will have access to the best AI infrastructure, models and toolchain with Azure to build and run their applications,” he added. OpenAI works closely with Microsoft’s cloud service Azure. Microsoft’s 2019 investment made it the “exclusive” provider of cloud computing services to OpenAI. Microsoft said Azure will continue to serve as OpenAI’s exclusive provider.
How to manage rapid expansion while retaining the company culture
The FT’s Andrew Hill speaks with Alan Ryder, the founder and chief executive of UK-based engineering and environmental consultancy RSK, on how to retain a strong corporate culture amid rapid expansion.
Blizzard manager departs after refusing to give employee lower evaluation
A manager at Irvine, Calif., headquartered video game developer Blizzard Entertainment said he was ousted after refusing to give a low evaluation to an employee who he felt didn't deserve it in order to fill a quota. Brian Birmingham, the former co-lead of World of Warcraft Classic, sent an email to staff last week in which he detailed his frustration with Blizzard and the way in which he was forced to lower an employee from the average “successful” rating to “developing” in order to achieve the quota mandated by the company. “When team leads asked why we had to do this, World of Warcraft directors explained that while they did not agree, the reasons given by executive leadership were that it was important to squeeze the bottom-most performers as a way to make sure everybody continues to grow,” Birmingham wrote in the email. “This sort of policy encourages competition between employees, sabotages one another’s work, a desire for people to find low-performing teams that they can be the best-performing worker on, and ultimately erodes trust and destroys creativity.” A Blizzard spokesperson said the company's employee evaluation process was designed to facilitate "excellence in performance" and "ensure employees who don't meet performance expectations receive more honest feedback, differentiated compensation, and a plan on how best to improve their own performance." The spokesperson added that the evaluation process involves conversations with multiple managers "and sometimes ratings move up or down based on those discussions."
'Menopause leave' trial is rejected by UK ministers
UK government ministers have rejected a proposal to introduce "menopause leave" pilots in England, arguing it could be "counterproductive," and have also dismissed a recommendation to make menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act. In July 2022, the Women and Equalities Committee published a report which warned that the impact of menopause was causing the UK economy to "haemorrhage talent," and said a lack of support was pushing women out of work. In its response to the report, the government rejected outright five of the committee's 12 proposals, including a recommendation for the government to work with a large public sector employer to "develop and pilot a specific menopause leave policy." A cross-party group of MPs had argued this could stop women being "forced out of work by insensitive and rigid sickness policies." Conservative MP Caroline Nokes criticized the government response to the Women and Equalities Committee, which she chairs.  “This is a missed opportunity,” said Nokes in a letter to the Minister for Women Maria Caulfield. “The evidence to our inquiry was crystal clear that urgent action was needed across healthcare and work settings to properly address women's needs, yet government progress has been glacial and its response complacent.”
Australian Treasury threatens to stop briefing tax multinationals after leak
Australian Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones has threatened to end confidential briefings with the country's largest consulting firms after a former PwC partner was banned by the Tax Practitioners Board for leaking confidential government tax plans - including new rules to stop multinationals avoiding tax - to other staff and partners at the firm. “The tax advice profession is now on notice,” Jones said, adding “When the integrity of that process is breached, we may need to rethink our approach.” Peter-John Collins, the former head of international tax at PwC Australia, was deregistered by the Tax Practitioners Board for leaking confidential government information and banned from the profession for two years. The Treasury had briefed Mr Collins in confidence on measures to prevent multinationals avoiding tax by shifting profits from Australia to tax and secrecy havens. But a probe found Mr Collins leaked the confidential information to PwC partners and staff.
Northern Europeans move to Malaga to work remotely
People are moving from northern Europe to the Spanish city of Malaga and its surrounding area amid a change in lifestyle and working habits since the pandemic, according to Spanish homebuilding companies. Neinor Homes said about 40% of young people taking on long-term rents in the city since they launched a rental division in 2020 were from overseas. That compares with almost no international customers elsewhere in Spain. Property purchases by foreigners increased by 62% from a year earlier in the region of Andalusia, which includes Malaga, in the first half of 2022, according to the Centre for Statistical Information of Notaries. Malaga's town council said a platform launched in February 2021 to help so-called digital nomads had received more than 160,000 visits by the end of 2022.

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