News briefs (May 21, 2001)

Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. — Pension plan obligations of insolvent Ontario steelmaker Algoma Steel Corp. could wipe out a provincial fund established to protect employees of failed funds. The Pension Benefit Guarantee Fund, to which each employer with a defined benefit plan must play $1 per year per employee, now sits at about $230 million in assets. If Algoma cannot negotiate a restructuring plan to keep it afloat, its ensuing pension fund shortfall could be as high as $624 million, wiping out the guarantee fund. The potential claims of 7,000 Algoma pensioners and 3,900 active employers add up to a scary figure, said David Gordon, director of the pension branch of the Financial Services Commission of Ontario, which regulates plans and oversees the guarantee fund.

Toronto — Asked to choose between large corporations, small companies, non-profits and the government, students chose the government as the top choice, a survey shows. More than 23 per cent of 2,000 respondents of the Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers survey listed the government as their first choice of employer. Stimulating work and the opportunity for development continue to rank as important for students considering job offers with only 14 per cent of respondents saying pay was their most important consideration.

Washington, D.C. — By using the Employment Insurance program to prop up regions and industries where seasonal employment is high and claims frequent, Canada could be adding to unemployment levels, the International Monetary Fund contends in its World Economic Outlook. “To enhance labour market flexibility and lower structural unemployment, new measures are needed to reduce the frequency of employment insurance use and eliminate regional extended benefits,” the report states. Reforms doing just that were passed in 1997, but were then rolled back by the federal government.

Washington, D.C. — In a bid to reduce pollution in five cities, the U.S. government will effectively pay companies that let staff work from home. The pilot project, overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, is operating in Denver, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Washington and Houston. Businesses will get tax credits for each “e-commuter,” as an incentive to reduce car emissions by having employees stay home one or two days a week. Critics point out that the program also allows companies that earn the credits for reduced auto emissions to sell the credits to large polluters rather than take a tax break. The polluters can than use the credits to skirt stricter clean air requirements.

Toronto — The Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario has achieved ISO 9002 Certification. “Our quality management system…sets an example for quality management and continuous improvement for both our members as human resource practitioners, and for private and public sector employers,” said HRPAO CEO Dan Stapleton.

Stamford, Conn. — People spend about 50 minutes a day managing e-mail and 34 per cent of all internal e-mail is unnecessary, according to a recent survey by business technology advisory firm Gartner Inc. Almost one-quarter of respondents said they spend more than an hour a day managing e-mail and that only 27 per cent of incoming messages require immediate attention. Among suggestions to alleviate the problem: use distribution lists with caution and send e-mails only to people who need the information; and count to 10 before hitting “reply all,” and then count to 20.

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