News in brief: A look at news, facts and figures shaping the world of payroll professionals

U.K. abolishes default retirement age • Employees want more online self-service tools • B.C. launches new website for HST information • SEC adopts say-on-pay rules • Proposed two-tier minimum wage in New Brunswick • P.E.I. exploring program to help seasonal workers

U.K. abolishes default retirement age

LONDON — The Default Retirement Age (DRA) will be phased out in the United Kingdom between April 6 and Oct. 1, 2011. The change gives people the freedom to continue working for longer and should also provide a boost to the U.K. economy, said the government in a release. Currently, employers can make staff retire at age 65 even if they are fit, healthy and can still do the job. With people living longer and healthier lives, the government said it wants to give  greater freedom to people in deciding when to retire. The last day employees can be compulsorily retired using the DRA will be Sept. 30, 2011. This means the last day to provide the six months’ notice required under the DRA will be March 30, 2011. Employers can still use the DRA between March 30 and April 6, 2011, but will have to use the short notice provisions. Under these provisions, an employee could claim compensation subject to a maximum of eight weeks wages. Between April 6 and Sept. 30, 2011, only people who were notified before April 6, 2011, and whose retirement date is before Oct. 1, 2011, can be compulsorily retired. From Oct. 1, 2011, employers will not be able to use the DRA to compulsorily retire employees. There will still be exceptions to these new rules however. Employers may continue to have a compulsory retirement age, but must be able to prove it is justified if challenged at an employment tribunal.

Employees want more online self-service tools

LONDON — Employers are failing to deliver the online tools employees want to manage their pensions, benefits and retirement planning, according to a study by consulting firm Mercer. The data comes from Mercer’s 2010 Employee Rewards, Benefits and Savings Survey, compiled from responses from 79 major employers and 1,000 employees  in the United Kingdom. Only 30 per cent of employees believe their company is doing a good job in helping them plan for retirement, and technology is widely referenced as an area that could help, found the survey. While 86 per cent of employees said they would like to receive financial planning tools, only 16 per cent of employers confirmed  they actually provide them. Eighty-nine per cent of employees would like to have access to a flexible pension contributions tool or already do so, allowing them to reduce or increase their pension contributions in line with their personal financial needs. Seventy-one per cent of employers said they either offer this facility or plan to do so in the future. Respondents said the aim of introducing new technology was to provide greater employee and manager self-service (42 per cent), achieve greater processing efficiencies (39 per cent) or achieve cost savings (24 per cent).

B.C. launches new website for HST information

VANCOUVER — The government of British Columbia has launched a new website for information about the harmonized sales tax (HST). The site was “designed to put more factual information on the HST in the hands of British Columbians,” said the province. Public opinion research released in December 2010 showed there was confusion about the HST’s implications and a majority of British Columbians are interested in reviewing straightforward and factual information about the HST. The new website was created from a user perspective, based on a review of user surveys, site analytics and polling research. The site has an improved navigation system, so users can find facts and information faster. The redesigned website seeks to ensure web users have reliable, factual information so they can eventually make an informed decision on whether to keep the HST or return to the provincial sales tax/goods and services tax. The website provides HST information for consumers, families and small and large businesses and can be viewed at

SEC adopts say-on-pay rules

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the United States has adopted rules concerning shareholder approval of executive compensation and “golden parachute” compensation arrangements as required under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The SEC’s new rules specify say-on-pay votes required under the Dodd-Frank Act must occur at least once every three years beginning with the first annual shareholders’ meeting taking place on or after Jan. 21, 2011. Companies also are required to hold a frequency vote at least once every six years to allow shareholders to decide how often they would like to be presented with the say-on-pay vote. Following the frequency vote, a company must disclose on an SEC Form 8-K how often it will hold the say-on-pay vote. Under the SEC’s new rules, companies are also required to provide additional disclosure regarding “golden parachute” compensation arrangements with certain executive officers in connection with merger transactions. The SEC also adopted a temporary exemption for smaller reporting companies (public float of less than US$75 million). These smaller companies are not required to conduct say-on-pay and frequency votes until annual meetings occurring on or after Jan. 21, 2013. The Dodd-Frank Act authorizes the commission to exempt an issuer or class of issuers after considering a number of factors including whether this disproportionate burden exists.

Proposed two-tier minimum wage in New Brunswick

FREDERICTON — New Brunswick’s Finance Minister Blaine Higgs has suggested a two-tier minimum wage based on age as one of the many efforts to reduce the province’s debt. At a pre-budget consultation, Higgs suggested having a lower minimum wage for workers under 18. Minimum wage in the province is $9 per hour and is scheduled to increase to $9.50 on April 1, 2011, and $10 on Sept. 1, 2011. There have been concerns from small business owners about the raise which prompted Higgs’ consideration of a separate entry level wage, according to media reports. The proposed change would keep workers under 18 at $9 per hour. The government is seeking input on the proposed change and, so far, has faced resistance from a variety of unions, student groups and members of the opposition. Members of the restaurant and food services industry have supported the change.

P.E.I. exploring program to help seasonal workers 

CHARLOTTETOWN — The Prince Edward Island Federation of Labour is pushing for a program allowing seasonal workers on government assistance to keep more of their employment insurance benefits. Taken from a similar program in Nova Scotia, seasonal workers on government assistance would be able to keep up to $3,000 of their wages before losing their benefits. At an annual meeting, members of the P.E.I. Federation of Labour voted unanimously in favour of the program. Government officials are also in support of taking a close look at the program. “I would support looking at this, taking a review on it and see if this could fit in P.E.I.’s jurisdiction as well,” Agriculture Minister George Webster told CBC.

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