Author Archive: Brian Sanchez

Big tobacco firms appeal landmark Quebec judgment in class-action suit

The judge who ordered three tobacco companies to pay more than $15 billion in damages to Quebec smokers for damaging their health created his own law in the process, a lawyer for the companies argued at the Quebec Court of Appeal. 

Simon Potter was the first lawyer to make arguments Monday in what is scheduled to be an unusually long five-day hearing before the appellate court. 

Potter argued that Superior Court Justice Brian Riordan’s decision in June 2015 contains “clear errors of law” and a “new standard of causation” that does not exist in Canadian law. 

Riordan found Imperial Tobacco Canada, JTI-Macdonald Corp. and Rothman, Benson Hedges Inc. liable for disease and addiction suffered by more than one million Quebecers over a nearly 50-year period. Potter argued the decision did not offer evidence that the people included in the class action were unaware of the risks involved with smoking before they developed health problems.

“Cause isn’t found through common sense. Cause is found through evidence,” Potter told the five judges who are hearing the appeal. “It’s difficult to parse out what standard of causation the judge did use.

“Our clients are stuck with a liability that is based on conjecture.” 

Potter also criticized the methods Riordan used to determine how many people should be eligible to receive damages. 

“We’re in a situation where we have an enormous net and there are a lot of people who shouldn’t be in it,” Potter said. 

Riordan’s decision involved two class-action suits. One group involved 100,000 smokers and ex-smokers who had developed lung cancer, throat cancer or emphysema. The other group represented 918,000 addicted smokers, but only those who developed disease will get a financial award.

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Mario Bujold, the director general of the Conseil québécois sur le tabac et la santé, a plaintiff in the class action, said outside court the delay caused by the appeal is preventing people who have serious health problems from having access to what the court awarded them.   

“That’s the sad part of it. We’re talking about victims of the products of the tobacco companies who have been waiting 18 years for justice to be rendered, and all they can do is wait again. I’m sad for that because those are sick people who have been waiting too long.”

“The tobacco companies are saying we didn’t have evidence to prove that if the companies gave more information (on the risks involved) to the customer there would less smokers. They refuse to admit there is a fault there. But at the same time when you look at how they react to having to issue every new warning, you can really see how that has an impact. The type of warning has an impact on smokers. That’s the heart of the whole trial.”

Lawyers for the Conseil québécois sur le tabac et la santé will make their arguments later this week.  

pcherry@postmedia.com

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Investigation: No evidence KYTC discriminated against minority firms

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A federal investigation found no evidence to support a former Kentucky Transportation Cabinet employee’s claims that the agency discriminated against minority businesses, according to documents filed in a lawsuit.

At issue was a complaint by Reed Hampton, who retired in 2014 from the cabinet’s civil rights office and alleged that Kentucky officials treated “older, African-American firms” differently than other companies that sought certification in a minority contracting program.

The “disadvantaged business enterprise,” or DBE, program aids Kentucky in meeting goals for minority- and women-owned companies on transportation projects that receive federal funds.

Hampton had identified five companies whose certification he contended had been affected. In its investigation, a federal civil rights specialist analyzed the records of those firms and studied two years’ worth of DBE records before concluding there was no “disparate impact” on black companies in the certification process.

“In fact, the data analysis showed that African-American owned applicants were certified at a higher rate than their white counterparts,” a Federal Highway Administration official wrote in June 1, 2015 memo. 

The federal review found that black-owned businesses were terminated from or chose to leave Kentucky’s DBE program at a higher rate than white companies, but it did not review the details of every case and noted that “such cases could involve applicant-initiated actions or an applicant’s failure to cooperate.”

The investigation’s summary was made public in October in a lawsuit that alleges Kentucky officials conspired to keep Louisville-based Mathis & Sons from getting a qualification needed to work on the Ohio River Bridges Project. The suit is pending in U.S. District Court in Louisville.

Hampton also gave examples to the Transportation Cabinet of alleged discrimination in the DBE program, according to the lawsuit and documents obtained under Kentucky’s open records law.

Two of the firms Hampton mentioned in an August 2013 complaint later had their DBE certification revoked by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

In February 2014, the cabinet determined that the Judy Harp, president of the Judy C. Harp Co. of Frankfort, did not control the business, but instead did “solely administrative” work. State officials also removed John Bays Inc., of Greenup, Ky., from the program that same year after finding that Alice Bays, its president, could not prove she had a controlling stake in the company.

RELATED: Bridges lawsuit alleges ‘fraudulent and discriminatory’ acts by Kentucky officials

RELATED: Ex-Kentucky transportation officials claims ‘discriminatory practices’ in minority business program

RELATED: Kentucky seeks dismissal of Louisville contractor’s discrimination lawsuit

Copyright 2016 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.

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More firms offering ad-hoc flexible work arrangements: MOM survey

SINGAPORE — More firms in Singapore are providing ad-hoc flexible work arrangements and leave benefits not mandated by law, such as marriage and study leave, to help their employees with personal and family commitments, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said on Monday (Nov 21), citing the results of its latest employment survey.

The number of firms that provide ad-hoc flexi-work arrangements, such as unplanned time off or ad-hoc tele-working — where employees work away from the office — rose from 70 per cent last year to 77 per cent in 2016.

The ministry’s latest Conditions of Employment report surveyed 3,800 organisations employing more than 1.3 million workers. In general, the survey found that employers are “more amenable” to offering ad-hoc measures on a case-by-case basis “as opposed to instituting formal processes”, since ad-hoc working arrangements require minimal adjustments to work.

However, based on data provided by companies, lower resignation rates are typically seen in those that offer more formal flexible work arrangements, that have a higher proportion of full-time employees on a five-day work week, and that have a higher proportion of full-time employees with at least 15 days of annual leave.

A favoured choice of formal flexi-work arrangement for companies is part-time work, the study found, with 35 per cent of them offering this, followed by staggered working hours, which means employees may choose to start and end work earlier or later.

The proportion of firms that offer at least one formal flexible work arrangement, such as part-time work, has remained unchanged since 2014 at 47 per cent, after rising steadily from 38 per cent in 2011. Still, the proportion of employees at such firms rose from 65 per cent last year to 67 per cent this year.

For companies that offer ad-hoc flexi-work arrangements, the proportion of employees rose from 76 per cent last year to 82 per cent this year.

Human resource experts said that the figures point to companies viewing flexible work arrangements as a means to retain and attract talent. They reflect a more progressive mindset of measuring success via outcomes, compared to how much time an employee spends in the office.

Mr Erman Tan, president of the Singapore Human Resources Institute, said: “These arrangements make workers happier. And when you have happier workers, the level of motivation is higher.”

Experts pointed out that ad-hoc working arrangements have become a popular option as companies continue to balance the need to keep workers happy and to ensure that company culture is not negatively impacted by flexible work arrangements.

Mr Martin Hill, associate director for human resources at recruitment firm Randstad Singapore, said: “At this moment, organisations are waiting — with some taking the ad-hoc approach — to see if flexible working truly makes a positive difference in the workplace.”

Fashion retailer Megafash, which has 16 employees, allows them to start work later and to work out-of-office. The start-up’s head of talent acquisition Shankari Gunasekar said that such arrangements promote efficiency and ensure that employees get ample rest in the event that they work late.

Mr Lee Haoming, 28, who works as a strategist in Megafash, said that having such arrangements does not breed complacency among employees. He added that the firm has a fortnightly meeting to keep tabs on the work progress of its different departments.

“I feel it is more productive this way, rather than having a rigid structure where you have to be in the office from 9am to 6pm,” Mr Lee said.

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Investors worth $1tn urge US meat firms to beef up water risk management

45 leading institutional investors send letters to four of USA’s largest meat producers ahead of Thanksgiving

Some of the largest meat producers in the US are being urged by leading institutional investors to address the “significant” water risks associated with feeding, slaughtering and processing livestock.

Ahead of Thanksgiving celebrations this week, joint letters were sent to four of the biggest producers in the US meat industry – Cargill Inc, JBS, Perdue Farms and Smithfield Foods – on behalf of 45 investors with worth more than $1tn in assets under management. The letter explains how improper management of water resources poses not just a threat to the environment, but also results in litigation and reputational risks for the meat producers.

“As investors analyzing water risks in our portfolios, we believe that robust management of water quality challenges is a critical aspect of risk management in the meat industry, and one of increasing importance in the context of climate change and growing weather extremes,” wrote the investors, which are all members of US sustainability organisation Ceres.

The letter calls on the meat companies to assess the pollution impacts of their direct operations and supply chains, and also to develop a comprehensive water stewardship policy. It argues such a strategy should address how permitted releases of materials into waterways are managed, ensure safe storage and management of animal waste, and minimise fertiliser runoff from animal feed production.

Kristel Verhoef, active ownership specialist at one of the letter’s signatories ACTIAM, said: “Broad mismanagement of local water resources can lead to devastating regulatory, reputational, and litigation risks, weakening a company’s ability to operate profitably.”

Fines for violations of wastewater permits have proven costly to the industry, according to Ceres, which cited JBS being forced to pay $2m in 2010 over the failure of a facility to comply with the Clean Water Act and the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law. JBS was also required to improve operations by reconstructing wastewater systems at an estimated cost of $6m.

The letter follows a 2015 Ceres report that ranked major food companies by the quality of their water risk management, identifying the worst performers and finding that most large food firms did not evaluate water risks in their farming supply chains at all. 

Responding to water risk concerns, however, seven global companies – including Diageo, General Mills, Hormel Foods and Kellogg – last week signed up to Ceres and WWF’s AgWater challenge aimed at boosting water use efficiency in their agricultural supply chains and supporting growers operating in high water risk regions.

“With climate change, business-as-usual management of the more than 300 million tons of manure produced annually by the US livestock industry is no longer feasible,” said Brooke Barton, senior program director of water and food program at Ceres. “Hurricane Mathew’s effects underscore the vulnerability of meat companies – and their shareholders – to growing risks stemming from large-scale water pollution events.”

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Uncertain Fate Of Health Law Giving Health Industry Heartburn

Six years into building its business around the Affordable Care Act, the nation’s $3 trillion health care industry may be losing that political playbook.

Industry leaders, like many voters, were stunned by the election of Donald Trump and unprepared for Republicans’ plans to “repeal and replace” Obamacare.

In addition, Trump’s vague and sometimes conflicting statements on health policy have left industry officials guessing as to the details of any substitute for the federal health law.

“It will be repealed and replaced,” Trump said in a Nov. 13 interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” At the same time, he vowed to preserve popular provisions of the law like ensuring that people with preexisting conditions can get insurance and allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ health plans.

Charles (Chip) Kahn, chief executive of the Federation of American Hospitals, said that before the election, health groups had not been meeting with Republicans about a rewrite of the law “because the working assumption was we had a program that wasn’t going anywhere. That working assumption is now no longer operative.”

Upending the health law plays havoc with a health industry that had invested heavily in strategies geared to the ACA’s financial incentives. The flipped script initially left some industry groups speechless. Others issued bland statements pledging cooperation with the next administration as they awaited greater clarity from the next president.

Said Donald Crane, who heads CAPG, a national trade group for physician organizations: “Nobody was ready for this. We didn’t have a Plan B.”

The results appear to have rattled the fragile industry coalition that the Obama administration carefully crafted to support the law. Looking ahead, some health sectors might have even more reason to worry.

The hospital industry may be the most vulnerable to proposed changes, which could result in millions of Americans losing health coverage, both through the insurance exchanges and expansion in the Medicaid program for those with lower incomes.

Hospitals cut a deal with Congress and the Obama administration in 2009, when the Affordable Care Act was being drafted. They agreed to substantial cuts in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, anticipating that those cuts would be offset by increases in paying customers who were newly insured.

“If you’re a hospital, you’ve sort of made this deal that you’re going to get more coverage [so you] accepted Medicare cuts,” said Dean Rosen, a longtime Republican congressional staffer who now represents hospital, insurance and other health interests in Washington. “What’s going to happen now?”

If expanded coverage under Obamacare goes away, said Kahn, then those cuts should be restored, “because those were done with the notion that uninsured people were going to have coverage.”

Other sectors of the industry appear either at somewhat less risk, or could even come out ahead under Trump and a Republican Congress.

While the pharmaceutical industry would stand to lose paying customers if the law was changed in a way that people lose insurance coverage, it could actually be a winner under a Republican president and Congress. That’s because the industry will be less at risk of the price controls that Democrats were vowing to try to impose. Trump mentioned drug prices a few times on the campaign trail, but references to drug pricing are not on the health agenda outlined on the transition website.

Insurers express mixed feelings about a potential repeal. The government-run exchanges where consumers can purchase federally subsidized coverage are a key pillar of Obamacare. But many insurers have complained about losing money in those marketplaces because too many sick people are signing up and healthier consumers are sitting out.

Some industry executives predict that the exchanges will be curtailed and Republicans will try to shift some of that coverage to state Medicaid programs. One of the biggest growth opportunities for insurers under Obamacare has been the expansion of Medicaid managed-care contracts under which private firms take responsibility for a large group of low-income enrollees for a fixed amount of money.

That privatization of Medicaid could accelerate under the Trump administration, some experts predict.

“Whether it’s Medicaid managed care or the private insurance model, these companies get their money either way,” said Paul Ginsburg, a health economist and professor at the University of Southern California. “I don’t see much of a threat to insurers.”

The picture is even rosier considering the insurance industry dodged a debate about a government-run public option, backed by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, that would have competed directly against private health plans.

The proposed changes extend beyond the health law. Many insurers expect Republicans to champion an expansion of privately run Medicare Advantage plans. These alternative plans often offer additional health benefits not covered by traditional Medicare, but they were targeted in the health law for cutbacks because back then they were more expensive to the government than traditional Medicare.

“Medicare Advantage is poised to be the big winner consistent with Republican support of privatizing Medicare,” said Ana Gupte, a health care analyst at Leerink Research.

Nothing on health care is bound to change right away. Republicans have promised to put their early focus on the health law, but even with a quick vote on repealing major parts of it, they are expected to set a lengthy transition period that keeps the current framework in place while a replacement plan is developed. At that point, Republicans will encounter many of the tough choices Democrats struggled with while writing the landmark 2010 health law. They spent more than two years trying to craft intricate compromises among industry leaders.

“The Republicans will face the same issues as the architects of the Affordable Care Act,” said Crane. “How do we fund it? Whose scalp do you take? And how do you get the most people covered for the lowest cost at the highest quality?”

Jeff Goldsmith, a health industry consultant in Charlottesville, Va., said the Republicans are “starting from zero in dealing with this. They have no idea about the subtleties.”

Some industry leaders are encouraged that Trump has softened his talk of “repeal and replace” and seems open to keeping at least some of the provisions of the health law.

Bernard Tyson, CEO of Kaiser Permanente, a large health system and insurer based in Oakland, Calif., took some comfort from Trump’s own words.

He “said no one in this country should suffer unnecessarily because they can’t afford health care. That tells me we have room to work here,” Tyson said. “I believe when they get under the hood of the Affordable Care Act, I think we may start to see and hear different conversations.”

Ginsburg predicts that Trump might apply his marketing skills to health reform.

“If you really want to continue with 20 million people having coverage,” Ginsburg said, “it will kind of look like the Affordable Care Act. There will be rebranding, but a lot of the elements will remain.”

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.

Categories: Health Industry, Insurance, Syndicate, The Health Law

Tags: Hospitals, Insurers, Medicare Advantage, Repeal and Replace

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National award for Peterborough and Stamford law firm

Peterborough and Stamford law firm Buckles Solicitors has just won a national industry accolade.

The firm, of Bourges Bourlevard, Peterborough, and St Mary’s Hill, in Stamford, has won the LawNet Excellence in Employee Engagement award.

Managing partner Colleen Gostick said: “We are thrilled at receiving this important award which recognises companies who are committed to building a people-focused organisation.

“The judges were looking for a well-thought out strategy linking employee engagement to the heart of the business.

“I’d like to thank everyone at Buckles for their continued hard work and support – together we make a formidable team.”

It is another highlight for Buckles in what has already been a successful 2016, with the firm celebrating a number of new appointments to various departments, including in its Spanish and French law offering,

The firm also celebrated a strategic alliance with long-standing relationship with Franco-Italian firm CastaldiPartners this summer, the opening of a new office in London and the launch of BucklesConnect – a service for lawyers and professionals wishing to access niches legal services offered by Buckles Solicitors LLP.

LawNet was established in 1989 to form a collaborative, non-competing national network where independent law firms could access big firm resources and benefit.


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More firms allowing flexi-work arrangements, giving greater leave benefits: MOM

SINGAPORE – It looks like employers in Singapore are finally heeding workers’ clarion call to improve work-life balance.

In the past year a number of surveys have indicated that having good work-life balance is increasingly important in the eyes of employees in Singapore, and that many workers still felt that companies needed to improve on this score.

But according to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) “Conditions of Employment” report released on Monday (Nov 21), more employers are providing ad-hoc flexible work arrangements and leave benefits to help employees cope with personal and family commitments.

The report was based on results of a survey that covered a total of 3,800 companies that employed over 1.3 million employees.

Here are five key findings from the report:

1. More firms giving unplanned time-off or allowing staff to work remotely on an ad-hoc basis

In 2016, 77 per cent, or more than three-quarters of firms surveyed provided unplanned time-off or ad-hoc tele-working arrangements – working outside the office using ICT – for staff to attend to personal matters. This is an increase from 70 per cent last year.

However, just 47 per cent of companies offer at least one formal flexible work arrangement, a rate that is unchanged since 2014.

MOM said that firms were more willing to offer flexible work arrangements on a case-by-case basis as they required fewer adjustments to work arragements.

2. Part-time work still the most common of formal flexible work arrangements

Part-time work was the most common formal flexible work arrangements, with 35 per cent of establishments offering such an arrangement. 23 per cent of firms offer flexi-time arrangements, which allow staff to report earlier or later for work.

Only 6.2 per cent of companies allowed formal tele-working.

3. Firms becoming more generous with leave

45 per cent of full-time employees now work in companies that gave them at least 15 days of paid annual leave, an increase from 42 per cent in 2016.

But encouragingly, more employers are now offering leave benefits that are not mandated by law to help employees cope with personal and family commitments. These non-statutory leave benefits include compassionate leave (offered by 92 per cent of employers), marriage leave (74%), study leave (40%), parental care leave (19%) and childcare leave (17%).

More establishments – 54 per cent in 2016 compared to 42 per cent in 2014 – also offered unpaid leave of more than one month to staff who wished to pusue personal interests or attend to family matters.

However, the number of employees who took sick leave also rose slightly from 58 per cent in 2013 to 60 per cent in 2015.

4. More employees now working five days a week

The proportion of full-time employees on a five-day work week rose from 46 per cent in 2014 to 48 per cent today. This also represents an increase from 43 per cent a decade ago.

5. Employees less likely to quit companies that offered more work-life benefits

What is the impact of these work-life initiatives?

The study showed that firms that offered more formal flexi-work arrangements, had more full-time employees on a five-day work week and had more employees with longer annual leave entitlements had lower resignation rates.

seanyap@sph.com.sg

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Consumers caught out as UK firms furnished with crippling copyright laws

The replica designer furniture market has become a huge industry, but a rushed change to the law has plunged it into chaos

An Eames lounge chair and ottoman made from molded rosewood plywood with black leather upholstery and aluminium
Affordable replicas of classics such as an Eames lounge chair will now be unavailable.
Photograph: Nick Merrick/AP

The website of Voga, Britain’s foremost replica furniture importer, boasts that the firm “was created to make great design accessible to all”, before adding: “The greatest mid-century furniture designs are back where they belong: in your homes.”

Except they’re not. They are in fact in a warehouse in County Kildare where, unless the UK customers who ordered them travel to Ireland to collect them, or pay a third-party delivery firm to do so, they will be resold or destroyed.

Among them is a £441 chair ordered by Orla McGrath back in March, made in the style of Danish designer Finn Juhl. The confirmation email stated it would take up to 12 weeks to arrive at her Manchester home, and the full sum, including delivery, was debited from her account. Those 12 weeks came and went, then out of the blue in August she was contacted by a Dublin shipping company demanding £70 to deliver the chair from Ireland.

McGrath called Voga, only for the firm to disclose that it had moved to Ireland since she placed her order. It offered to deduct £68 from the price of the chair to cover the extra shipping costs.

Voga, it transpires, reinvented itself as an Irish company in May to escape new UK copyright laws that would have rendered much of its merchandise illegal. There’s no mention of the relocation on its website, which also does not give an address, and the FAQs on delivery and extra charges are silent on the issue. Only deep down in the terms and conditions is it mentioned that customers must arrange their own delivery from Ireland.

McGrath is an early casualty of a change in British legislation which has made it a criminal offence to sell replicas of design icons without a pricey licence. The amendment to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, which came in to force in July, retrospectively extends the design rights to unregistered classic works created after 1957 from 25 years after their launch to 70 years after the designer’s death. This sounds the death knell for affordable replicas of 20th-century bestsellers such as the Arco floor lamp and Arne Jacobsen’s Egg chair and threatens to put scores of companies that supply them out of business.

A further proposed rule change will slap copyright on iconic pre-1957 designs which never qualified for copyright protection in the first place, making it a criminal offence to incorporate any element of them into a new work. This means that anyone without a licence from the copyright holder who is selling , for example, the Finn Juhl-inspired chair bought by McGrath could face a £50,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison. Householders who want to get the look will now have to fork out thousands rather than hundreds for a piece of furniture, and magazines will be penalised if they show photos of items protected by the copyright without buying a licence.

Voga, which sells copies of classic designs for up to seven times less than the full price, says it was forced to decamp to Ireland where the 25-year design right still applies. It can legally sell replicas to UK customers so long as it doesn’t deliver themto the UK. there. Third-party shippers who deliver them under a separate contract are not breaking the law, and Voga says it will deduct the extra cost from the bills of affected customers.

Orla McGrath
Orla McGrath ordered a chair before the design laws existed, and now has to arrange delivery from Ireland. Photograph: Rob Evans

“It’s unfortunate that due to the law change and the influx of orders some customers were impacted, and that moving systems to Ireland affected our ability to communicate with them effectively,” a Voga spokesperson says. “We thought we’d have until the end of the year to fulfil existing orders,but unfortunately the government deadline was brought forward at the last-minute.”

McGrath’s experience illustrates the shambles into which the new laws have plunged the design industry. Legislation to revolutionise long-standing design right laws was rushed out with a speed that experts say could cripple the British replica furniture, jewellery and decorative arts market. Almost overnight, companies that had been trading legitimately for decades found that they would be committing a criminal offence if they continued to sell their stock. Meanwhile, consumers will have to wait up to 40 years for bestselling designs to emerge from the new copyright.

It was the lobbying might of the Swiss design giant Vitra that forced the law change. It campaigned for UK copyright laws to be aligned with the 1998 European design directive which sought to give mass-produced furniture the same protection as books, music and photography across the EU. In the UK, unregistered industrially produced furniture was protected by a design right of only 25 years after its first year of manufacture, and the European parliament had agreed it could preserve this rule when it issued the directive. But Vitra, which holds distribution rights for original Herman Miller creations, including the Eames lounge chair, claimed this had spawned a cheap replica market in the UK which cost it €250m a year in lost profits.

In February 2015 the Intellectual Property Office said the law would come into force in 2020 to give companies time to get rid of compromised stock and invest in new designs. It would be applied retrospectively so that furniture with long-lapsed design rights would receive a new copyright lasting 70 years after the designer’s death. Vitra, along with three other big distributors, had wanted the law change within six months, so threatened legal action – and in November 2015 the IPO announced that replica sales of works of “artistic craftsmanship” would become illegal in 2016. But it is the proposal to close a loophole that exempts pre-1957 designs that never qualified for copyright from the new rules that threatens to destroy British suppliers, since most of the 15 best selling creations predate that watershed. Some have already gone bust after investing in new stock and designs following the government’s promised five-year transition period.

Their predicament is compounded by the fact that no one can define which works are deemed to have “artistic craftsmanship”. The Law Society has asked in vain for guidance; the government admits it doesn’t know. Instead it declares that the courts must decide on a case by case basis.

“We had a deluge of orders before the law changed, and we don’t know which ones to stop since there is no list of which designs qualify for copyright,” says Scott Appleton of Scott Howard Iconic Designs. He has written six times to Vitra and its fellow lobbyists asking which designs cannot be replicated, but has heard nothing. “We used to bring in four containers of Eames lounge chairs a week; now its a trickle because we don’t know if and when they will be outlawed.”

Legal experts are appalled by the rushed legislation. Professor Lionel Bently, director of the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law, says it was not required by EU law, and his concerns were ignored by politicians. “The odd thing about the pre-1957 artistic works that the government is now going to protect by copyright, is that no copyright ever subsisted in these works under British law,” he says. “The latest consultation proposes to bring these works into copyright without any transitional provisions, which will simply make illegal the sale of copies that have been lawfully made or imported before the change in the law. It is completely extraordinary.”

The IPO, meanwhile, says the legislation was necessary to protect designers, even though the creators of most of the bestselling works are long dead.

An Egg chair created by Danish designer Arne Jacobsen.
An Egg chair created by Danish designer Arne Jacobsen. Photograph: Alamy

Vitra hails the new law as a victory for the design industry. “We welcome the decision of the British government which mandates that artistic designs will soon fall under the same copyright protection in the UK as they do in other European countries,” says a spokesperson who declines to answer which of the works it distributes qualify as artistic.

However, far from benefiting designers, the amendment will in fact hobble them, according to Ivan Macquisten, from the Expired Copyright Homeware Organisation, a campaign group set up to oppose the changes. “Any designer setting out to create a new product is faced with the minefield of ensuring that it does not incorporate any element from an earlier design that could be deemed to have an artistic quality to it,” he says.

Among the casualties is the ordinary British consumer who can’t afford to pay thousands for classic designs, while those living outside the EU can legally buy and sell cheap replicas once the 25-year design right has expired. For now, companies like Voga can get round the rules by relocating to Ireland. Not for long, though: Vitra has set its sights on forcing the Republic to harmonise its rules with the European design directive.

Ironically, those most troubled by the new laws might have been the Eames chair’s designers, Charles and Ray Eames, who thought that great design should be available to the masses. Now those masses will have to pay around £4,000 for that swivelling leather look.

YOUR RIGHTS

■ You have 14 days to cancel an online, mail or telephone order under the consumer contract regulations, provided you’ve had no face-to-face contact with the trader. If you’re shown an item then go home and confirm the order over the phone you lose the right to cancel.

■ If an item is customised you don’t have a cooling-off period and can only get a refund if it’s faulty or not as described.

■ When you place an order the retailer must send you written confirmation along with terms and conditions, details of the cooling-off period and how you can cancel. It should also advise of any charges for returning the item.

■ If a company asks for extra payment due to relocation after an order is confirmed, it may be in breach of contract and you should be entitled to cancel.

■ If the furniture doesn’t fit in your house, that is your problem and the retailer has no obligation to refund you – unless the the dimensions were wrongly advertised.Always ensure that you measure the room, hall and doorways etc before ordering to make sure the item can actually be delivered into your home.

■ If you legitimately bought a replica of a classic post-1957 design you can still legally own it and sell it on to a private individual or company. However, if it’s bought by a dealer they are committing an offence under the new rules.

This article was amended on 21 November 2017. The headline was changed to reflect the fact that although the law change brings the UK into line with a European directive, it was not enforced by the EU.

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More firms offer ad-hoc flexible work arrangements

SINGAPORE — More firms in Singapore are providing ad-hoc flexible work arrangements and leave benefits not mandated by law, such as marriage and study leave, to help their employees with personal and family commitments, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said on Monday (Nov 21), citing the results of its latest employment survey.

The number of firms that provide ad-hoc flexi-work arrangements, such as unplanned time off or ad-hoc tele-working — where employees work away from the office — rose from 70 per cent last year to 77 per cent in 2016.

The ministry’s latest Conditions of Employment report surveyed 3,800 organisations employing more than 1.3 million workers. In general, the survey found that employers are “more amenable” to offering ad-hoc measures on a case-by-case basis “as opposed to instituting formal processes”, since ad-hoc working arrangements require minimal adjustments to work.

However, based on data provided by companies, lower resignation rates are typically seen in those that offer more formal flexible work arrangements, that have a higher proportion of full-time employees on a five-day work week, and that have a higher proportion of full-time employees with at least 15 days of annual leave.

A favoured choice of formal flexi-work arrangement for companies is part-time work, the study found, with 35 per cent of them offering this, followed by staggered working hours, which means employees may choose to start and end work earlier or later.

The proportion of firms that offer at least one formal flexible work arrangement, such as part-time work, has remained unchanged since 2014 at 47 per cent, after rising steadily from 38 per cent in 2011. Still, the proportion of employees at such firms rose from 65 per cent last year to 67 per cent this year.

For companies that offer ad-hoc flexi-work arrangements, the proportion of employees rose from 76 per cent last year to 82 per cent this year.

Human resource experts said that the figures point to companies viewing flexible work arrangements as a means to retain and attract talent. They reflect a more progressive mindset of measuring success via outcomes, compared to how much time an employee spends in the office.

Mr Erman Tan, president of the Singapore Human Resources Institute, said: “These arrangements make workers happier. And when you have happier workers, the level of motivation is higher.”

Experts pointed out that ad-hoc working arrangements have become a popular option as companies continue to balance the need to keep workers happy and to ensure that company culture is not negatively impacted by flexible work arrangements.

Mr Martin Hill, associate director for human resources at recruitment firm Randstad Singapore, said: “At this moment, organisations are waiting — with some taking the ad-hoc approach — to see if flexible working truly makes a positive difference in the workplace.”

Fashion retailer Megafash, which has 16 employees, allows them to start work later and to work out-of-office. The start-up’s head of talent acquisition Shankari Gunasekar said that such arrangements promote efficiency and ensure that employees get ample rest in the event that they work late.

Mr Lee Haoming, 28, who works as a strategist in Megafash, said that having such arrangements does not breed complacency among employees. He added that the firm has a fortnightly meeting to keep tabs on the work progress of its different departments.

“I feel it is more productive this way, rather than having a rigid structure where you have to be in the office from 9am to 6pm,” Mr Lee said.

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We are amending land law to deal with crooked speculators

There is a serious claim by Dr Kizza Besigye that you are behind a mafia scheme to grab people’s land and that you and your schemers will do this through tinkering with the Constitution and other statutes. What exactly are you proposing to amend in the law governing land?

Currently the Land Acquisition Act Section 7, which had given the chief government valuer and government an avenue to deal with some of the issues that remain unresolved during compensation, was struck off by the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court, leaving no avenue through which government can resolve some outstanding issues related to the amount of compensation when government hits a snag in negotiation of the amount.

Secondly, we have experienced in many circumstances speculators who know the plan of government to purchase land where government has planned infrastructure development and some will buy land in wetlands or forest reserves and demand astronomical compensation and spoil negotiation of the value of the land in the area.

With corruption and inefficiency by the consultancy firms hired to conduct compensation for the local people, it makes the cost of doing business by government and infrastructure development costly and stalls government projects.
So government is amending Article 26 of the Constitution to insert Sub Section 3 to deal with the problem of those who reject the amount of value determined by the government valuer and the rate provided by that district local government.
And the proposal will be that where the land value as determined by a chief government valuer in collaboration with the local government rate is rejected by the owner, government shall deposit the amount approved by the chief government valuer and district in courts of law and acknowledgement of payment by courts shall be deemed to be prior payment and the person shall have a right to go to court if he is dissatisfied with the amount.

Two or three issues from what you have stated. Firstly, is this coming up in the awaited constitutional amendment or you are moving your own raft of changes to our land laws?
This is in the Constitutional Amendment Bill. We would have proposed under the Land Acquisition Act but the Supreme Court held that Section 7 is unconstitutional in as far as it contradicts the principle of Article 26 that talks of prior payment.

Secondly, for a government that chest thumps about a private sector-led economy which is at the heart of free market economics that cherishes the willing buyer willing seller doctrine, where does government imposing value leave the land owner?
It would have been so if both parties were acting in good faith. Under the law, each district is mandated to determine the compensation rate and the chief government valuer uses the district approved rate and other methods to come up with the final compensation price. But because we have speculators who find out what government plans are; they buy, hike the price and reject the government valuer’s price yet the market value would be the same.

Not all the time is government acting in and with good faith. So to make such a radical amendment in the law based on government’s good faith is to put the land owner at the mercy of corrupt government officials
That is why I want to take them back to Article 26 which defines what public good is, so this amendment is not open to any other government investment outside what is in Article 26 that talks of public good to include public health, defence, infrastructure like roads, electricity and water. So people shouldn’t worry, we shall be guided by what public good is as defined in the law.

Dr Besigye in his article says your statements were confusing and deceitful, specifically in respect to the amendment of the supreme law of the land…
If I may ask, have you not understood what I have explained now? If Dr Besigye didn’t understand anything he should have had the courtesy to call me and ask for a print out of what government is proposing to guide him in his judgment because sometimes journalists report what ministers say as and how they have understood it and it may not be entirely accurate.

He also makes a valid point in asking the question, why the accelerated land registration in northern Uganda. Why now?
This project has been there for the last seven years. The issue of land registration started in 1960s when UPC started from western region to title land, that is why in Bushenyi and other areas land is titled. For the last seven years we have been titling land under customary and mailo tenure.
In fact, Kasese District where the leader of Opposition in Parliament hails from has benefited from this programme and the people there have embraced it. Under the law we can issue customary certificate of ownership or transfer from customary to freehold.

But we are speaking about land registration under and by one of the most corrupt institutions of government. This informs part of the people’s misgivings
I don’t think we can generalise that the corruption is to the level that dissuades people from registering land. Part of the corruption is from outside the Lands office. It is from surveyors and area land committees, but we are examining our own systems to fix the problem using public service regulations to discipline our staff who err.

You caused the interdiction of Sarah Kulata, the commissioner land registration, and she continues to fight in the courts. What is her fate now?
The law will take its course, she is one of the people we realised was an impediment to reform. But as the highest ranking officer, she should have been at the forefront of fighting corruption (she was also acting director for land management) but public complaints were enormous. The public had lost trust and confidence in the office and she had to be held accountable for failure to show leadership.

Let’s go back to northern Uganda which is home to at least 30 to 40 per cent of the mineral deposits in this country and that informs the fear of the public; that by tinkering with land acquisition laws the regime wants to grab people’s land through investors working for the interests of the mafia
You are more insecure when you don’t have a title for your land because the law states that conclusive evidence of land ownership is the land title. So to have no title doesn’t mean it can’t be grabbed. It can still be grabbed with a title, but with the title no one can force you to sell or throw you out of your land.

If your proposal sails through, this is what you will actually achieve; a situation where government identifies land, asks the owner to surrender it at a fee determined by the same government and if he rejects you forcefully pay him and start work
The amendment is not for all land in Uganda, but that which is needed for government projects as defined in the law. Local government plans for roads and other projects and the central government can only develop infrastructure requested for by the district in consultation with the sub-county.

What happens if government is broke or, thanks to bureaucracy, the deposit is not even made as we saw in Nigeria a few years ago?
That is why my proposal is beautiful because we are saying government deposits money in courts of law and it is that receipt that is deemed as proof of payment. Government won’t do anything before depositing money in court.

Why should a land owner be subjected to the costs of hiring a lawyer and the pain of dealing with the justice system that takes ages to deliver justice
Because we would have had an agreement with the owner and there is procedure to come up with that value and we shall be certain with the district that we offered the best market value and you are only being stubborn. That is why we shall proceed with the works. This proposal will work only where majority have accepted.

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