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North American Edition
24th November 2021
Biden administration asks Appeals Court to reinstate employer vaccine rules
The Biden administration is seeking the immediate reinstatement of rules requiring businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers are vaccinated or tested weekly for Covid-19. The Justice Department filed an emergency court motion on Tuesday with the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, which last week was designated as the court that would decide legal challenges filed around the U.S. to the rules. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) earlier this month formally issued the requirements. The rules cover roughly 84 million workers and are scheduled to take effect January 4th. The rules reflect “OSHA's judgment that these measures are necessary to mitigate Covid-19 transmission in the workplace, and the grievous harms the virus inflicts on workers,” the Justice Department said.
Employers tell unvaccinated workers to pay more for health insurance
An increasing number of companies are telling workers who decline to receive Covid shots to pay more for health insurance. A September poll by the Society for Human Resource Management found less than 1% of organizations had raised health insurance premiums for unvaccinated workers and 13% have considered doing so. But it was higher among larger employers, where nearly 20% were considering the move. NPR notes that some employers, including Delta Air Lines and JPMorgan Chase, appear to be raising health care premiums for unvaccinated workers under the auspices of a "wellness program.” According to federal law, companies are allowed to charge employees different amounts for health care as long as they do it through a program designed to promote healthy behaviors and prevent disease.
Minimum wage for federal contractors to increase to $15 an hour
A Labor Department rule means that federal contractors will soon be paid a $15 an hour minimum wage. Starting January 30th, all new contracts or contract extensions will require the higher minimum wage, which will be indexed to inflation, the department said in a rule that is part of a regulatory push by the Biden administration to increase workers' pay. The rule would raise the minimum wage for contractors from $10.95 an hour, and Labor Department officials say about 327,000 contractors could see higher wages. Most federal contracts last three to five years, according to the department. “Federal contract workers are essential workers and are critical to the federal government,” said Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. “It's a step in the right direction and it also ensures the federal government leads by example.” The government employs a total of around five million contractors, according to Paul Light, a professor at New York University. Their ranks include janitors, security guards, and child-care workers who provide services to the government.
Citi to hire 100 people amid digital assets push
Citigroup is seeking 100 hires as part of a new push into digital assets inside the lender's institutional business. “We are focused on assessing the needs of our clients in the digital-asset space,” Citigroup said in a statement. “Prior to offering any products and services, we are studying these markets, as well as the evolving regulatory landscape and associated risks in order to meet our own regulatory frameworks and supervisory expectations.” Puneet Singhvi has been recruited to be Citi’s new head of digital assets inside the institutional-clients group, according to a staff memo seen by Bloomberg. He will report to Emily Turner, who manages business development for the broader group. “We believe in the potential of blockchain and digital assets including the benefits of efficiency, instant processing, fractionalization, programmability and transparency,” Turner said in the memo to staff. “Puneet and team will focus on engaging with key internal and external stakeholders including clients, start-ups and regulators. ”
BP is on a hydrogen hiring spree
BP wants to fill 100 hydrogen jobs as a first step in the oil and gas giant’s plan to capture a 10% share of “core” hydrogen markets over the next decade. “The ambition is to get folk in as soon as possible, so they can start super-charging what is already a growing business,” Matthew Williamson, BP’s vice president for blue hydrogen, said, adding that there will also be “future waves of recruitment.” BP is hiring both internally and externally for the hydrogen roles, and is looking beyond the company’s traditional skillset. “There’s a lot of BP skills already, but we know we haven’t got all the answers,” said Williamson. “If you look at our team at the moment, we’ve got an ex-Ferrari engineer, we’ve got somebody who used to test downhill skis,” as well as “a geologist who used to model reservoirs.” BP launched a major restructuring last year, which will ultimately result in about 10,000 jobs being lost, as the company scales back its traditional fossil-fuel activities while increasing production of cleaner sources of energy.
U.K. fintech start-up moves to four-day work week without cutting pay
U.K. based online lender Atom Bank has introduced a four-day work week for its 430 staff without cutting their pay. Employees now work 34 hours over four days and get Monday or Friday off. Previously they had clocked up 37.5 hours across the whole week. However, employees will have to work longer hours on the days that they are in. Atom Bank CEO Mark Mullen said the move was inspired by the pandemic and would help improve wellbeing and retain staff. "Before Covid, the conventional wisdom was you had to commute in, sit at a desk all day and repeat that process when you commuted home," said Mr Mullen, who has led the lender since 2014. "Covid showed us that it wasn't necessary . . . I think doing 9-5, Monday to Friday is a pretty old fashioned way of working." Mr Mullen said the new arrangement was voluntary, but strongly reflected his staff's preferences for more flexible working. He also hopes the arrangement will help attract talent at a time when staff attrition at the bank is "unusually" high due to the pandemic. "With Covid-19 causing vast numbers of people to reconsider how they want to live their lives, anything that leads to more productive, healthier, and, crucially, happier colleagues, is a win for everyone," he added. Writing for the New York Times, Kevin Delaney says the embrace of flexible work styles in response to the pandemic means the four-day workweek could finally be within sight. He cites a Gallup study which found that people who worked four-day weeks had significantly higher levels of well-being - but they also had higher levels of active disengagement. “By working fewer days per week, employees who already feel disconnected from their employer, team, or manager are more likely to drift even farther away — from tolerating their jobs to hating them,” Gallup’s Jim Harter and Ryan Pendell wrote.
Tesla employees in Germany plan works council
The IG Metall trade union has said seven employees at Tesla's new plant near Berlin will elect a works council to represent their interests. "A works council ensures that the interests of the workforce have a voice and a weight. This is in line with the democratic work culture in Germany," said Birgit Dietze, IG Metall district leader in Berlin, Brandenburg and Saxony. The factory will employ 12,000 workers, although only about a sixth of that number have been hired so far, meaning the election of a works council will not take place soon, IG Metall said. The union is to choose an election committee as a first step towards setting up a works council, on November 29th. Tesla is offering pay 20% below the collectively bargained wages offered at other German automakers, sources have told the union, and the US company is also overhauling conventional contracts in the German car industry by offering packages with stock options and bonuses rather than predetermined holiday pay.
Democrats close to passing changes to international corporate taxation
The Wall Street Journal reports that Democrats are close to passing significant changes to international corporate taxation, moving toward a system that would reduce the gaps between nations’ tax rates and making taxes a less important consideration for where companies put investments, profits and headquarters. The plan would help push tax rates into a narrower band, reducing companies’ opportunities to exploit gaps across borders. The higher taxes on U.S.-based companies would take effect in 2023, and the impact on companies would depend on whether and when other countries follow through on their promises to impose similar taxes. Companies based in the U.S. would face a 6-percentage-point gap between earning income at home or abroad, down from as much as 35 points a decade ago. U.S. companies and foreign-based companies competing in a third country would face similar tax rates; now, the U.S. company has a potential tax at home the other firm doesn’t. U.S. companies choosing where to put investments and profits would face a smaller spread of tax rates in various countries, because they would likely have a 15% minimum tax no matter where they go.
Pandemic drives structural changes in the U.K. labor market
The UK workforce has shrunk after a sharp rise in the number of people choosing to leave work in the wake of the pandemic, according to the Resolution Foundation, which says more than half a million more people in the U.K. are now economically inactive. This shrinking of Britain’s workforce has left a more concentrated number of women and younger adults to form the backbone of the U.K. economy, with many older workers and men dropping out of labor force participation. Among adults aged 25 to 44, labor force participation among men declined by 1.1 percentage points but increased by 1.8 percentage points among women. For mothers with children aged three or younger, participation grew by 5.4 percentage points to 74%.Overall, female participation in the employment market rose by 0.4 percentage points to 48%, up from 44% in 1992. “The pandemic has seen an increase in labor force participation among women” that is “particularly striking among mothers with young children,” the Resolution Foundation report said. Hannah Slaughter, an economist at the think-tank, observed: “The pandemic has seen older workers withdraw from the labor market - and while anxieties about high levels of Covid-19 may understandably put some off from working today, the danger is they find themselves in early retirement tomorrow.”
Looters target Bay Area retailers
A Silicon Valley branch of Lululemon has become the latest Bay Area store to be ransacked by thieves working in unison. The shop was hit on Sunday when a group entered and quickly started grabbing merchandise off the shelves and running out within minutes. The robbery in San Jose follows a similar attack on a Nordstrom in nearby Walnut Creek on Saturday, when as many as 80 people pulled up in around 25 cars and ransacked the upscale retail giant in an operation that took less than one minute. On Friday, a similar incident took place in San Francisco’s posh Union Square, where a gang of thieves first smashed up an expensive car and then ransacked a Louis Vuitton store. California Gov. Gavin Newsom described the incidents as “people smashing and grabbing, stealing people's items, creating havoc, terror in the streets.” Mr. Newsom said he was speaking not just as governor but as a business owner. “My business has been broken into three times this year,” said Mr. Newsom, who owns a hospitality company including wine shops and restaurants. “I have no empathy, no sympathy for these folks, and they must be held to account.”

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