New IBA Global Employment Institute - Debbie Legall

The IBA continues to lead on strategic global employment and HR initiatives with its new think tank.

Debbie Legall

The beginning of the fiscal year remains a popular time for new laws coming into force in the United Kingdom. And April 2010 was no exception – with employment and equality being the practice areas of heightened focus. For example, as of 6 April, new employment legislation gives employees in organisations where there are 250 staff or more the right to request time off to attend training after 26 weeks’ service – provided there are demonstrable benefits to the employer as well as the employee. This right extends to all employees from April 2011.

In the UK, 6 April also saw the introduction of a ‘fit note’ or Statement of Fitness for Work, to replace sick notes, as a means of addressing sickness absence among employees who may be able to undertake some form of work – as opposed to none at all. The fit note signifies a shift in emphasis towards what a person may be able to do, rather than what they can’t do.

 Doctors must complete the note, stating whether, in their view, a person is fit for work, is not fit for work, or ‘may be fit for work’, taking into account certain advice. Employers are able to use this information to assess what duties an employee could do if she or he is able to work and whether it is appropriate, for example, for the staff member to carry out light duties, undergo a phased return to work, have access to flexible working or perhaps benefit from workplace adaptations.

While some legislation could be described as being firmly rooted in a local context – and therefore being primarily of interest to the jurisdiction in which it applies – other developments have a more obvious multijurisdictional appeal. Some of these changes are the result of the worldwide economic downturn, while others demonstrate the need for employment law to address, keep pace with and even anticipate developments in the workplace.

For example, according to the International Labour Office’s (ILO) report ‘Global Employment Trends’, ‘in developed economies with strong social protection measures, workers who lose their jobs can move into unemployment’, but in many developing economies, workers who lose their paid jobs don’t have access to social protection schemes. Rather than becoming unemployed, these workers take up various forms of employment, generally known as ‘vulnerable employment’. This situation keeps people at risk of experiencing poverty and injustice, often impacting on their rights. Other global issues include, but are not limited to: discrimination; flexible working laws; unionised activities; the effect of the economy on pensions and other incentive plans; corporate social responsibility; and managing a multinational workforce within the bounds of immigration policies.

‘IBA GEI will play a leading role in the identification of the problems and solutions that multinationals and world organisations will face in the process of globalisation.’

Salvador del Rey
Cuatrecasas Gonçalves Pereira

Strategic global thinking

Enter the International Bar Association Global Employment Institute (IBA GEI). The IBA GEI was set up earlier this year, with the aim of becoming the leading voice on global human resources matters. Its purpose is to develop for multinationals and worldwide institutions an approach that is both global and strategic, as a means of tackling the key legal issues in HR and human capital.

The organisation’s activities include:

  • reports on global and strategic HR legal issues;
  • reports on the impact of market and business trends on international HR legal practice;
  • research and analysis on key issues affecting management and human capital functions within multinationals;
  • strategic commentary and opinions on discrete areas of employment, discrimination and immigration practice and their relevance to current business trends;
  • providing commentary to proposed new or reformed government legislation on major HR legal issues;
  • commentary and analysis on strategic management and HR legal issues affecting certain globalised industries and market sectors;
  • training and education of HR professionals and managers on strategic and global HR issues; and
  • together with the IBA’s Employment and Industrial Relations Law, Discrimination Law, and Immigration and Nationality Law Committees, organising sessions on global and strategic employment and HR legal issues of topical interest.


Salvador del Rey, partner at Cuatrecasas Gonçalves Pereira in Madrid, former Chair of the IBA’s Employment and Industrial Relations Law Committee and Chair of the IBA GEI, explains that the IBA GEI was formed out of a need for ‘strategic global thinking on the trends of the legal regulation on human resources’. He points out that ‘human capital is in an ongoing process of globalisation and, at the same time, is key in the permanent innovation of companies in an ever-increasing competitive market’.

Companies have long realised the importance of their workforce – their single most valuable asset. At a time when there is increased competition in global markets – for market share, innovation or product development – the need to attract and retain the right staff has never been greater. The economic crisis has added a further level of complexity to the work of HR professionals and the organisations in which they work: how to deliver efficiencies as well as enhancing performance and productivity, while at the same time promoting and establishing employment practices that are within the bounds of the law.

Structure and function

Through its work, the IBA GEI aims to address these and many other diverse issues. Del Rey explains that as a strategic think tank, while the IBA GEI will not provide legal advice, it will deliver strategic direction in the form of regular reports. It is planned that such reports will be based on surveys and the activities of the three IBA committees that come under the IBA HR umbrella: Employment and Industrial Relations Law Committee, Discrimination Law Committee and Immigration and Nationality Law Committee; the goal being to ‘reinforce and extend the activities of these committees’. The IBA GEI Council will be made up of a maximum of 20 members, and its remit will be to approve the institute’s business plan and budgets, as well as being responsible for the appointment or removal of executive committee members. Working committees (of council officers only) will be responsible for specific tasks, and an advisory board, which del Rey describes as ‘a consultative body formed by representatives of major multinationals, world institutions and organisations’, will be established.

The IBA GEI’s executive committees will be presided over by a Chair, Vice-Chairs, a Secretary and Treasurer. Vice-Chairs will cover a range of areas within the executive committees, namely: institutions; multinationals; knowledge management and internal affairs; and working groups dealing with specific tasks will be run by council or non-council officers. At the time of writing, the IBA GEI was in the process of drawing up its constitution. The structure and membership of the IBA GEI will ensure it is in a position to deliver the required strategic input pegged at a global audience. Del Rey explains that HR lawyers and professionals from multiple jurisdictions will be part of the institute, and will be involved in its main programme of activities. The Council of the IBA GEI and the Executive Council Officers are lawyers who are (or were previously) Chairs of the IBA Employment and Industrial Relations Law Committee – spanning the three areas of the IBA GEI’s activity: employment and industrial relations law; discrimination law; and immigration and nationality law.

Del Rey is keen to draw attention to the collaborative nature of the IBA GEI, emphasising the wealth of support and expertise that have helped to establish it: the institute is a ‘collective and participative project… former President of the IBA, Fernando Pombo; present President of the IBA, Fernando Peláez; Legal Practice Division (LPD) Chair, Hendrik Haak; and all the personnel of the IBA, especially Mark Ellis and Leslie Alekel, have been very supportive of the idea and its implementation’.

Survey 10/2020

But how, in practical terms, is the IBA GEI applying its expertise to international employment issues? Del Rey explains that in April, the institute carried out a survey called ‘Survey 10/2020’. The questionnaire asked ‘senior managers of 160 multinationals from 13 major countries across the five continents and from all the economic sectors, to evaluate the ten most important strategic subjects they will face in the decade (up to 2020)’.

Members of the IBA GEI Council

IBA Employment and Industrial Relations Law Committee
Marcus Beresford Ireland
Salvador del Rey Spain
Raymond Jeffers UK
Pascale Lagesse France
Bob Mignin USA
Mariann Norrbom Denmark
Rob Towner New Zealand
Jack Weir USA

IBA Discrimination Law Committee
Keith Corkan UK
Barry Mordsley UK
Dirk Jan Rutgers the Netherlands

IBA Immigration and Nationality Law Committee
Scott Borene Canada
Gary Simon Eisenberg South Africa
Graeme Kirk UK
Julia Onslow-Cole UK

Executive Council Officers
Chair: Salvador del Rey
Vice-Chairs for institutions: Keith Corkan and Jack Weir
Vice-Chairs for multinationals: Bob Mignin, Julia Onslow-Cole and Rob Towner
Vice-Chairs for knowledge management:
Marcus Beresford and Mariann Norrbom
Vice-Chair for internal affairs:
Graeme Kirk
Secretary: vacant (until a secretary is appointed, this function will be performed by an attendee appointed by the chair of the meeting in question)
Graeme Kirk
Communications Officer:
Pascale Lagesse

The responses to the survey (in conjunction with the IBA GEI’s involvement in the activities of the three committees) will also help to inform future strategic reports issued by the IBA GEI.

In addition to the survey and related areas of work, del Rey draws attention to the fact that the IBA GEI will be very involved in one particular area of work. In an advisory capacity, the IBA GEI takes on an active role in the ‘main legal strategic issues that arise from the globalisation and innovation of human resources’. According to del Rey, this aspect of HR will increase steadily over the next few years and will, he predicts, require ‘breaking [down] national frontiers as we know them today, making urgent the need to develop an international and transnational legal framework for the regulation of employment, discrimination and immigration issues’. He contends that the institute will be in an ideal position to address these challenges due to the breadth and depth of experience of its officers and members. And this robust vein of professional expertise will mean that that the ‘IBA GEI will play a leading role in the identification of the problems and solutions that multinationals and world organisations will face in the process of globalisation’.

‘... our idea is to develop a permanent process of evaluation of our activities in which the advisory board as well as our membership will play a major role.’

Salvador del Rey
Cuatrecasas Gonçalves Pereira

A third sphere of activity will also benefit from the IBA GEI’s involvement: publications. The institute will participate in the IBA’s many titles, but its focus will be firmly on the publications dealing with employment and industrial relations law, discrimination law and immigration and nationality law.

Evaluation and development

As with any new body or service, a process of evaluation by means of measurement and tracking can help to gauge effectiveness and ensure organisational goals are being met – and the IBA GEI intends to do so. Del Rey states: ‘our idea is to develop a permanent process of evaluation of our activities in which the advisory board as well as our membership will play a major role.’

But perhaps the greatest tool in the IBA GEI’s extensive armoury will be the IBA itself. Del Rey sums up: ‘it [IBA GEI] is a project that will benefit from the extensive experience of the IBA on all the subjects related to the development of transnational and international legal regulation.’ With access to some of the world’s leading labour and employment practitioners, and the support of the world’s prominent practitioners, the IBA GEI is well placed to deliver its aims. As such, the IBA GEI will be in a position to ‘develop its important role, thanks to the leading position of the IBA on every major international legal issue’.

Debbie Legall is a freelance journalist. She can be contacted by e-mail at

Further information
ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service)

International Labour Office – ‘Global Employment Trends’ public/---ed_emp/---emp_elm/-- -trends/documents/publication/ wcms_120471.pdf

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