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17th March 2023
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Microsoft adds OpenAI technology to Word and Excel
Microsoft says it is bringing generative artificial intelligence technologies such as the ChatGPT chat assistant to its Microsoft 365 suite of business software. The company said the new AI features, dubbed Copilot, will be available in some of its most popular business apps including Word, PowerPoint and Excel. In February, Microsoft debuted a new version of its Bing search engine that included a chatbot powered by OpenAI’s GPT-4 language technology. OpenAI publicly revealed its GPT-4 software earlier this week and pitched it as being more capable than the GPT-3 technology. “Today marks the next major step in the evolution of how we interact with computing, which will fundamentally change the way we work and unlock a new wave of productivity growth,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said, adding “With our new copilot for work, we’re giving people more agency and making technology more accessible through the most universal interface — natural language.”
Transforming the Employee Discounts Experience for Transport for London

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NHS staff offered 5% pay rise
NHS staff in England have been offered a 5% pay rise, as well as a one-off payment of at least £1,655 to top up the past year's pay award. Unions are recommending members back the deal, which covers all NHS staff except doctors, who are on a different contract. Health Secretary Steve Barclay, who said the offer marks a "fair pay rise," said there had been movement on both sides and praised the "constructive engagement" of the unions. The Royal College of Nursing, Unison and the GMB are all backing the deal, while Unite the Union has said it cannot recommend it to members but will put it to a vote. A government spokesperson said both sides believe the offer represents “a fair and reasonable settlement that acknowledges the dedication of NHS staff, while acknowledging the wider economic pressures currently facing the UK.”
Think-tank questions Budget’s back-to-work plans
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) think-tank says the government’s plans to encourage people back to work will have limited impact and cost £70,000 a job. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt detailed the plans in Wednesday’s Budget, saying the government will offer tax breaks on pensions and expanded free childcare in a bid to boost workforce numbers. Paul Johnson, director of the IFS, said the Office for Budget Responsibility has calculated the plan will cost around £7bn a year and increase employment by around 110,000. Noting that this equates to nearly £70,000 per job, Mr Johnson said that while the Chancellor "might have some success" with the scheme, it was likely to be modest given the large number of people who left the workforce in recent years.
Wages up by a quarter in a decade
With wages failing to keep up with the rising cost of living for many people, BBC News has analysed salary figures from the Office for National Statistics to see how wages in different professions compare to the overall average and whether any have kept pace with inflation. The analysis shows that over the last 10 years, the wage of an average full-time employee in the UK has risen by about a quarter, to £33,000 in April 2022. This is almost in line with inflation, falling just £230 short of matching price rises.
Firms make progress on women in senior management
Financial services companies have increased the proportion of women in senior management to 35%. For the first time since the voluntary Women in Finance charter was created in 2016, the best-performing firms had women in more than 40% of top management jobs last year. However, 29 companies missed their targets, including KPMG and Grant Thornton.
John Lewis cancels employee bonus as losses widen
The John Lewis Partnership will not pay its staff a bonus for only the second time in its history, after it reported a full-year pre-tax loss of £234m, compared to a loss of £27m a year earlier, largely due to property writedowns. Sales at the group declined 2% in the 12 months to January 28th, to £12.25bn. Waitrose sales were down 3% to £7.31bn, while at John Lewis they rose 0.2% to £4.94bn. In a letter to staff, also known as partners, chair Dame Sharon White hinted the group would also have to make job cuts in the future in order to increase efficiency savings from £300m to £900m. “The mantra for the year is cost out, margins up and customer focus", she added. 
Hospitality leaders warn of rail dispute impact
UKHospitality says pub and restaurant businesses are expected to lose as much as £600m due to transport strikes. Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the industry body, said: “Our pubs, bars, coffee shops, hotels and restaurants, to name a few, continue to suffer as collateral damage, with total lost sales since the start of the dispute last year now expected to reach more than £3bn.” Kris Hamer, director of insight at the British Retail Consortium, said that strikes will “slow the progress” retailers have made to encourage people back to the high street following on from the pandemic.
Swiss banks oppose idea of forced merger
UBS and Credit Suisse are opposed to a forced merger, Bloomberg has reported, citing people with knowledge of the matter. UBS prefers to focus on its own wealth-centric strategy and is reluctant to take on risks related to Credit Suisse, the report said, as the smaller rival seeks additional time to complete its restructuring efforts after receiving financial support from the Swiss central bank. Wall Street bank JPMorgan on Wednesday said that Credit Suisse's takeover by another lender, probably UBS, was the most likely scenario for the beleaguered bank.
Job applicants are using ChatGPT to boost their hiring chances
Job applicants are using ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence chat assistant from OpenAI, when looking for new roles, using it to help write cover letters, finesse résumés and formulate answers to expected interview questions. Employers - who the Wall Street Journal observes have long used AI to screen hires - aren’t always disqualifying applicants who use ChatGPT, but they want to figure out how to assess candidates who may be using the tool to give them an advantage. Sarah Baker Andrus, chief executive of Avarah Careers, a career coaching firm in Delaware, cautions job applicants who use ChatGPT that they need to combine the tool’s edits with their own editing and voice. Whatever a candidate submits for a job should accurately reflect their skills, she says. “We’re responsible for how we present ourselves . . . If you decide to use ChatGPT, it’s worthwhile to ask, ‘Is that representing the me that I want to present?’”
PwC strikes deal on AI chatbot
PwC will start using an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot to speed up work in its tax and legal divisions. The firm has signed a deal with start-up Harvey that will see all 4,000 staff in PwC’s global legal business gain immediate access to a chatbot developed off the back of OpenAI’s GPT technology. PwC will also look at ways it can use the tool to speed up work and boost the efficiency in its tax division. PwC noted that any work carried out by the AI tool will be “overseen and reviewed” by PwC’s human staff.
Google workers in Switzerland stage walkout
Hundreds of Google staff members at the company's office in Zurich, Switzerland, walked off the job on Wednesday after more than 200 workers were laid off. In January, Google's parent company Alphabet announced plans to cut 12,000 jobs around the world, equivalent to 6% of its global workforce. A representative for IT workers' union Syndicom said more than 2,000 employees had offered to reduce their wages and working hours in a bid to prevent job losses. Google apparently rejected this proposal. "Our members at Google Zurich and all employees joining the walkout are showing solidarity with those laid off," a Syndicom spokesperson said, adding "They are bothered by the non-transparent nature of the layoffs, and are especially disappointed that Google is laying off workers at a time when the company is making billions in profit every year." A Google spokesperson said the company had made cuts to ensure the number of roles remained aligned with its highest priorities. "The consultation process has now concluded in Switzerland and employees whose roles were impacted have been notified,” the spokesperson said.
Conditions for migrant workers in Qatar have worsened since World Cup, union says
A group of eight global union federations has said conditions for migrant workers in Qatar have got worse since last year’s FIFA World Cup. Ahead of FIFA's 73rd Congress in Rwanda, the Global Union Federations issued a statement expressing “serious concerns on the decent work legacy of the World Cup and the sustainability of labour reforms in Qatar,” observing  “Reports on the ground in Qatar reveal continuous breaches of the new labour legislation by rogue employers emboldened by an absence of enforcement and growing confidence that rights violations will go unpunished.” The union group claims reform has stagnated due to a lack of political will, active opposition from many abusive employers, and a lack of progress on the International Labour Organization's Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. “The threats, arrests, and sudden halt of meaningful cooperation with the Global Union Federations further confirm a deteriorating environment and reticence to build on progress achieved through dialogue and cooperation,” the statement continued.
Urgent investment is needed to improve conditions for key workers, ILO says
The International Labour Organization (ILO) says the essential workers who kept societies and economies going while the world was in COVID lockdown urgently need better pay and conditions if countries are to be ready for the next global crisis. “In a number of countries, key sectors are facing labour shortages, because people are increasingly reluctant to engage in work which is not properly, adequately, fairly valued by society and rewarded in terms of better pay and improved working conditions,” said Manuela Tomei, Assistant Director-General for Governance, Rights and Dialogue at the ILO. According to a new report from the ILO drawing on data from 90 countries, key workers remain severely “undervalued” and their contributions insufficiently recognised. Key recommendations in the ILO report include the strengthening of regulation in essential areas such as wages and workplace safety, and targeting investments in the health and food sectors and in support of small businesses.
Costa Rica seeks ‘white gold' lithium
Open pit mining is banned in Costa Rica but the country has become a leader in the extraction of heavy metals such as lithium – from old batteries, not from the earth. For the past six years, the Fortech recycling factory that opened nearly three decades ago in Cartago, about 27km from the capital San Jose, has focused on extracting the lithium - dubbed "white gold" - contained in rechargeable batteries used in everything from mobile phones and laptops to electric cars and solar panels. The facility is referred to by its employees as an “urban mine.” The company sells the resulting materials for the construction of new batteries. “We now know that waste does not exist. We know it is a resource that can be used again,” Fortech managing director Guillermo Pereira said, adding “It's important to break paradigms . . . The world needs a circular economy.”

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