The International Bar Association Global Employment Institute (IBA GEI) has published a report that indicates data privacy, immigration restrictions and competition for diverse workforces as some of the foremost challenges facing employers.

Keith Corkan, former IBA GEI Vice-Chair for Institutions, commented: 'The nature of work continues to undergo significant change, with multinationals seeking to find talent and fill skill shortages by recruiting globally. At the same time, workplace demands appear to be getting more challenging, with respondents reporting an increase in stress and absenteeism. The changing nature of work is a trend that is likely to persist, particularly with the rise of the 'gig' economy. The IBA GEI's Annual Global Report continues to serve an important role by providing information on such global developments to HR professionals, multinational corporations, and policymakers.'

The Fifth Annual IBA GEI Annual Global Report, based on research carried out by lawyers from 58 countries, shows that, employers are constantly weighing up their employees' rights to freedom of expression and privacy against their own rights to protect the business from the effect of adverse comment and improper disclosure by employees with whom they are in dispute, with particular regard to social media platforms.

In a number of countries, constitutionally protected rights of privacy and freedom of expression relating to computer usage, emails, text messages, and closed-circuit television (CCTV) are being strengthened by new data protection laws which increasingly require employees' consent to the processing and monitoring of data for a legitimate business purpose. More disputes and greater litigation have been reported in many countries, with governments finding it difficult to draft legislation that provides a uniform solution to disputes factually wide-ranging in nature. As a solution, employers are implementing their own social media policies, dictating how and when an employee can use social media sites.

The report also shows that in 30 out of 52 countries, there is a shortage of highly skilled workers. In an attempt to rectify the situation, many countries - including Albania, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Colombia, Israel, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan and the United States - are issuing work permits to attract highly skilled foreign workers, while others, including Canada and Japan have taken measures to make immigration more flexible. However, there is much competition for those in a globally-diminishing talent pool, with employers finding it more difficult to recruit both domestically and internationally for reasons such as the growing 'war for talent' and government restrictions on immigration.

Unexpectedly, the report finds that Cyprus, France, India, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa and the US, despite the shortages, either remain protectionist, or have adopted stricter and more protectionist immigration rules, with the Czech Republic, Estonia, Kenya, Lithuania, Malaysia, Nigeria, Russia and Singapore implementing policies to qualify local workers to give them priority over foreign workers. By way of explanation, the report suggests that these contrary measures are in place in response to 'populist sentiment and pronouncements of extremist politicians, particularly in the EU and US'.

Descriptive as opposed to prescriptive, the 35-page report assesses trends rather than suggesting policy approaches. The report covers several issues including dismissal and retirement; corruption and whistleblowing; work-life balance and flexible working; absenteeism due to stress and mental health matters; discrimination in the workplace; and executive remuneration and banking reform. It also provides a high-level overview of changes in national and international law, inter alia:

  • Multinational corporations are continuing the trend of adopting voluntary measures to enhance diversity and gender participation within their businesses.
  • Growing evidence of a strong trend away from permanent employment in favour of flexible working arrangements.
  • New measures implemented to curb executive pay in a limited number of countries.

Todd Solomon, Council Member of the IBA GEI, explained the report's relevance, particularly to multinationals: 'The fifth Annual Global Report provides a valuable inside view of what types of human resources trends are likely to continue in the foreseeable future and which ones are likely to decline. The breadth of issues that are assessed in the report can serve as a useful tool for planning purposes, particularly for multinationals that are seeking to expand to other countries and need an overview of HR issues they may have to address in times ahead.'

In broad terms, the research shows that, since the 2008 financial crisis, certain recurring issues have become more pronounced, including balancing privacy and human rights, flexible working arrangements and work-life balance issues, while others have declined, such as collective bargaining. Few legislative changes have been made primarily for the benefit of employees across the 58 countries discussed in the Report.