Stone Federation GB annual conference

How much do you know about employment law? That was what Gerry Lean, the Construction Confederation's director of employment affairs, aimed to find out about the delegates at the Stone Federation GB annual conference in London last month (September) with 20 questions he posed to them.

The answer was: not everything. The best score was 75%.

In providing answers to the questions he had posed he informed delegates about changes they could expect in employment laws, especially regarding age discrimination (which becomes an offence from October next year) and increased allowances in time off for men as well as women that can be expected in association with maternity and paternity.

He said the concept of unfair dismissal had been introduced to the UK in 1972. In 1988, 30,000 cases were brought. It is now 130,000 a year. The current limit that can be awarded for unfair dismissal by a tribunal is £56,800.

However, there are no limits for discrimination cases. One case had received £635,150 compensation, he said, although the average was £7,275.

The areas of discrimination are currently: sex, race, disability, religion and sexual orientation. Age joins them next year.

Although companies will still be able to require employees to retire at 65, people over 65 who are employed will in future be able to claim unfair dismissal, which they cannot at the moment. They will also have to be given notice (or payment in lieu of notice) when they leave, which, again, they do not have a right to currently and they will for the first time be entitled to redundency pay. They will also become entitled to sick pay.

Gerry warned that discrimination could occur even before people are employed. There are, he said, currently people making similar applications for jobs under different names, one typically English and one typically not. If the typically English name receives an interview and the other does not they are claiming racial discrimination.

One of Gerry\'s questions many got wrong was a woman\'s entitlement to maternity leave. It is currently six months, although the Government are increasing that to nine months and then a year. It is paid, but the Government pay it.

The Government has also announced its intention, through the Work & Families Bill expected to be introduced this month, to make it possible for parents to share the entitlement to the year\'s leave, so the mother and father could, for example, both take six months.

Employers are also required to consider seriously proposals from mothers to reduce their hours of work and to work from home after the child is born.

Joni Tyler, head of CPD at RIBA, told Federation members what they needed to do to get their message over to architects. "You have to understand them," she said.

She said there are 30,000 architects on the Architect's Registration Board (ARB) register and 95% of them work in practices of fewer than 20 people, 61% of them in practices of six people or less and 13% are sole practitioners. Only half of all architects are salaried.

Her point was that they are busy, so getting a message across to them had to be achieved in a way that did not require too much of their time. In this respect, she said the stone industry was lucky because its products made beautiful buildings that had instant impact in photographs. "They want beautiful pictures," she said.

"You can't tell an architect anything. You have to let them think they have come to the knowledge you want to give them." She said stone companies should know about the architects they want to see; their projects and specialities. They should talk relevantly to the specific architect they are approaching because architects don't like to be thought of as a mass market. "Find out what rocks their boat," she said.

And although most architects work on screens and use the internet, they still like printed products on a shelf that they can pick up and look at. They also like awards. "If you\'re involved in an award-winning building, boast about it and other architects will want to be associated with you."

Dr Paola Blasi from Internazionale Marmi e Macchine (IMM) in Carrara, Italy, explained how even Italy, the largest stone trading nation in the world, is facing similar problems to the UK.

She said there was a lack of investment in promoting stone. "The ceramic people are much more proactive than we are." They were enthusiastically encompassing CE marking in order to compare their products favourably with stone, while stone companies were "waiting and waiting and waiting".

Even when a particular stone was specified it was not always what was installed. And it was often installed by people who did not understand it, which led to failures for which the stone was blamed. "This is something we have to work on a lot, I think," she said.

She said the industry in Italy was not developing. "We don't like to think about new products. We are more interested in traditional uses of stone. But the building industry is very interested in new uses of stone and new products."