2008 – the year in HR

A look at what made news last year
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/11/2009

There is one word that best describes the year 2008: Tumultuous. There was a vast change in the economy from good to terrible, as reflected in the pages of Canadian HR Reporter. In the early part of the year, there was plenty of talk of the continuing labour shortage. Some nervousness about long-term pension funding worked its way in, but the world looked pretty optimistic.

But everything changed in September, and from October on the pages of the paper were dominated with headlines such as, “What the economic crisis means for HR,” “Slowdown cripples wage increases” and “HR ‘tempting target’ in downturn.” (Oct. 20, article 6437, Nov. 17, article 6505 and Dec. 1, article 6524.)

There was the federal election, where experts touted Stephen Harper’s win as a victory for employers. (Nov. 3, article 6475.) But it looks like election coverage — or a new prime minister — could be in the cards again for early 2009. Here’s a brief look by topic area at news that made headlines in the HR world last year. (To view any of the articles, go to www.hrreporter.com, click on “Advanced search” on the top right-hand side of the home page and enter the article number. All subscribers to Canadian HR Reporter have unlimited access to the archive.)

Recruitment and staffing

Talk about a looming labour shortage concerned all sectors of the economy across the country. The shortage of workers in IT will cost that sector alone $10 billion a year. (Jan. 28, article 5779 and Feb. 11, article 5823.)

The biggest factor is the aging workforce, with baby boomers set to start retiring in 2011, but employers aren’t equipped to woo these older workers. (Jan. 28, article 5778 and Nov. 3, article 6476.)

With the aging workforce, employers are competing fiercely for new graduates. A survey found the average acceptance rate for graduate job offers was 82 per cent, the average cost per hire was $5,150 and the average starting salary was $48,885. (Nov. 17, article 6504.)

To cope with labour shortages, provinces such as Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and British Columbia began campaigns to lure residents from other parts of the country. (Feb. 14, article 5752, Oct. 20, article 6433 and March 6, article 5889.)

Recruitment is becoming more creative, as a new job board offers cash for referrals and more employers turn to social networking sites and use video in online job postings. (June 16, article 6158, April 21, article 6003 and Feb. 11, article 5815.)

But organizations need to be wary of the power of the Internet, with a new website allowing employees to rate bosses and workplaces anonymously. (June 2, article 6125.)

For recruitment, a fake-proof personality test developed by researchers at the University of Toronto can accurately predict performance even when subjects are purposely trying to make a good impression. (Nov. 3, article  6474.)

Health and safety

A government report found a culture of fear and discipline at Canadian National is at the heart of the rail company’s poor safety record and many employees aren’t even aware of the safety program. (July 14, article 6214.)

A report from the Canadian Council on Learning found 42 per cent of working-age Canadians have low literacy skills, while a Conference Board of Canada report found improving literacy can improve workplace safety. (Aug. 11, article 6264 and Dec. 1, article 6528.)

Last year saw the first conviction under the “corporate killing” law, a 2004 amendment to the Criminal Code. Quebec company Transpavé pled guilty to criminal negligence causing death and was fined $110,000. (April 21, article 6014.)

The inquest into the death of Lori Dupont, a nurse at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Hospital in Windsor, Ont., killed by her ex-boyfriend and colleague, recommended the Ontario Ministry of Labour specifically require employers to protect workers from domestic violence, abuse and harassment. In Manitoba, the government has committed $100,000 to train employers on domestic violence awareness. (April 7, article 5966 and Dec. 15, article 6523.)

Researchers found workplace bullying is more harmful to employees’ well-being and job satisfaction than sexual harassment. The University of New Brunswick launched a website that gives victims and managers tools to address workplace bullying. (April 7, article 5967 and Oct. 5, article 6403.)

Casual absences and short- and long-term disability cost employers nearly $30 million in direct and indirect costs in 2007. Also costly are employees who come to work when they’re sick or exhausted. (Jan. 28, article 5785 and June 2, article 6127.)

When the United Steelworkers Local 2251, which represents workers at Algoma Steel Industries in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., heard many of the steel plant’s workers and retirees who had filed workers’ compensation claims had died, the union held a two-day intake session to gather occupational disease data from all current and former workers. (June 2, article 6126.)

The Canadian Human Rights Commission added a new ailment to the list of disabilities employers must accommodate to the point of undue hardship: Environmental sensitivities. (Sept. 22, article 6358.)

Top 100 employers

The Oct. 20 issue was full of tales from the country’s best employers. Mediacorp Canada, publishers of the list, touted benefits for retired workers and improvements in areas such as vacation, maternity leave top-ups and compassionate care leave top-ups as reasons why companies made the cut. (Article 6428.)

Labour relations

One of the most colourful characters in Canada’s labour movement — Buzz Hargrove — stepped down after 16 years as head of the Canadian Auto Workers union. (Aug. 11, article 6267.)

In a groundbreaking deal, unionized construction workers and contractors in British Columbia agreed to drug testing after an accident or near miss, or if there is reasonable suspicion of on-the-job impairment. (Sept. 22, article 6364.)

Saskatchewan’s new government fired the chair and vice-chairs of the Labour Relations Board, something Gordon Sova, editor of sister publication CLV Reports, called a “dangerous precedent.” (April 7, article 5952.)

And it’s hard to talk labour relations without mentioning Wal-Mart, which closed a tire and lube shop at a Quebec store after workers unionized. (Nov. 3, article 6470.)

The Executive Series

A new regular feature was introduced in 2008 — The Executive Series, a partnership with the Strategic Capability Network. Readers gained a window into high-level, strategic HR thinking — and a virtual seat at a monthly breakfast session in Toronto to hear comments from some of the brightest minds. Topics included:

• The chicken or the egg argument: Does success breed engaged employees or do engaged staff lead to success? (Jan. 14, article 5748.)

• Why Henry Mintzberg thinks MBA grads should come with a warning label that reads “not prepared to manage.” (Feb. 11, article 5818.)

• Why toxic workplaces are just as bad as unsafe ones. (April 21, article 6004.)

• Lessons from a sports psychologist who helped the Dallas Stars win the Stanley Cup. (Sept. 22, article 6354.)

Benefits

The tax-free savings account is set to debut in January 2009. It allows employees to contribute up to $5,000 per year, with unused contribution room carried forward. While there is no tax deduction for contributions, investment income and withdrawals are tax-exempt. (April 7, article 5961 and Aug. 14, article 6279.)

Ontario’s new Family Day holiday in February caused some confusion. Nearly one-fifth of respondents to a survey said they would not provide the holiday while another fifth would use an existing floater holiday. (Feb. 11, article 5824.)

The Department of Finance released legislative proposals to clarify which over-the-counter (OTC) medications were eligible for the Medical Expense Tax Credit (METC), also causing confusion. (Sept. 22, article 6356.)

Statistics Canada numbers showed, in 2001, 11 per cent of fathers outside of Quebec received parental leave benefits, compared to 32 per cent of eligible fathers in Quebec. After the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan was implemented in 2006, that figure increased to 56 per cent. (Oct. 6, article 6398.)

Compensation

Living-wage policies gained traction as four Ontario jurisdictions considered this type of compensation for employees and contractors, but some argued it’s a flawed policy that can lead to higher unemployment. (Sept. 22, article 6359.)

Since companies are making strides to improve executive compensation practices, there is no need to push for “say-on-pay” resolutions, said a Canadian Coalition for Good Governance paper. (Feb. 28, article 5787.)

And new rules around executive and director remuneration from the Canadian Securities Administrators could ultimately quash say-on-pay demands by significantly changing the information disclosed in management information circulars. (Oct. 6, article 6394.)

Diversity

Many visible minorities in leadership roles said they felt pressured to “Canadianize” themselves, to look, talk and act like their Caucasian colleagues, and being overly identified with their minority group was the main barrier to advancement in their careers. (Sept. 8, article 6179.)

“Subconscious racism” was the subject of a study that found more than three-quarters of HR professionals go off script to prompt job candidates, which could mean biases and racism creep into the interview process. (April 21, article 6012.)

A report found nearly one-half of respondents said their company’s vision and mission statement reflect a commitment to workforce diversity, but only one-quarter have a diversity hiring plan. And only 15 per cent have a plan to improve retention of diverse groups. (Jan. 14, article 5750.)

Immigration

An immigration program promising business mentorships in Nova Scotia was discontinued. Immigrants paid $130,000 to gain permanent resident status and a mentorship with a local business but a softer economy meant the pickings were slim. So the government announced it would refund $100,000 less the gross salary and other payments received. (March 24, article 5929.)

Overall, median family income grew 3.7 per cent from 2000 to 2005 but for non-immigrant families it grew 5.3 per cent while it fell one per cent for immigrant families and three per cent for recent immigrants, according to a report. It also found, in 2000, immigrants earned 97.5 cents for every dollar a non-immigrant earned but in 2005 they earned 91.7 cents. (Nov. 3, article 6468.)

Pensions

The economic crisis and its impact on pension funding was big news late in the year, with the federal government announcing it would provide some relief for federally regulated pension plans by allowing an extra five years to repay funding shortfalls. (Dec. 15, article 6542.)

But there were several other developments unrelated to the economic collapse. The C.D. Howe Institute recommended a mandatory national supplementary plan for non-covered workers called the Canadian Supplemental Pension Plan. (Aug. 11, article 6260.) And Aon Consulting suggested an affordable defined benefit (ADB) plan that would deliver a predictable, defined benefit-style pension while giving employers the financial risk control of a defined contribution plan. (Oct. 20, article 6432).

In the area of phased retirement, Quebec allowed plan members to receive a pension from a defined benefit plan or a benefit from a defined contribution plan while employed. And the federal government took steps to change pension standards in the phased retirement provisions of the Income Tax Act. (May 5, article 6050.)

Pulse survey

Canadian HR Reporter, in partnership with the Human Resources Professionals Association, launched a new feature this year — the Pulse Survey. Every month, hundreds of HR professionals were surveyed on various topics including coercion, a senior HR designation, the future of the profession, the use of the word “strategic,” the gender disparity in HR, reciprocal recognition of international HR designations and changes to the Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designation. (June 16, article 6154, May 19, article 6085, March 24, article 5925, July 14, article 6206, Oct. 6, article 6396, Nov. 3, article 6473, Dec. 1, article 6530 and April 21, article 6008.)

Work-life balance

The Public Service Alliance of Canada wants the government to break the BlackBerry habit or at least compensate employees for responding to e-mails and calls after hours. The Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada has already called for a blackout on BlackBerrys between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. and on weekends and holidays. (June 16, article 6159.)

Employers began targeting working parents by offering them flexible schedules or by letting them bring their infants to work with them. (May 5, articles 6044 and 6051.)

With files from Shannon Klie, Sarah Dobson and Todd Humber.

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