May 8

Month: March 2021

‘Working from home has made childcare easier’

With a great many of us continuing to work from home, is it levelling the playing field for working mothers who previously had to put their children before their careers? Journalist Katherine Latham, herself a mum of three young kids, takes a closer look. Something you don't learn at your antenatal classes is how hard it is to hold down a paid job and be a mum at the same time. You aren't told that you will have to make a choice: to continue on your career path, earn a good living, and realise your ambitions - or prioritise caring for your children. Studies show that it is a widespread issue. A government report last year found that almost a third of women in the UK with a child aged 14 or under had needed to cut their working hours because of childcare issues. For men it was just one in 10. Many mothers are simply unable to juggle the nursery or school runs with long commutes and stressful jobs. So they end up either reducing their hours, quitting altogether, or getting a lower paid but more local job. Previous career goals seem suddenly unachievable. But with the pandemic has come widespread home working. And it has become acceptable to do a video call with a toddler hanging around your neck or to adjust your hours to fit in with bath time. With many firms now realising their staff can successfully work remotely, and some even going as far as doing away with their offices altogether, could this be a chance for women to get back on the career ladder? When civil servant Rebecca Green, 29, found out she was pregnant two years ago she thought she'd have to reduce her hours - losing income and seriously affecting her career prospects. With her husband away in the Royal Navy for months at a time, it was going to be left to her to juggle childcare, commuting and working long hours. It promised to be stressful and tiring, and she would barely see her young daughter midweek. Then the lockdown arrived while Ms Green was on still on maternity leave. When she did return to work in the summer, it was from her home in Monmouthshire. Without a lengthy commute, she could enjoy breakfast with her daughter Bethan, and then finish work in time for tea. "It would have been difficult to fit getting Bethan to nursery and me to work, on time," says Ms Green. "Working from home has made it easier for sure. "It is much more manageable now. It wouldn't have been sustainable before." Janina Johanna Sibelius, a mother of two children, aged nine and 11 agrees that working from home has made her life easier. "My company is very understanding," says the 40-year-old, who lives in London, and works in publishing. "As long as I get the job done there is no pressure to waste hours in front of a screen just so that you can say…

Chinese investment in Australia plummets 61%

Chinese investment in Australia plummeted 61% in 2020, the lowest number in six years. The drop in investment comes amid a growing diplomatic rift between the two countries. The Australian National University's Chinese Investment in Australia Database (CHIIA) recorded just over $780m (A$1bn ; £550m) in investment. Only 20 Chinese investments were recorded in 2020, well below the 2016 peak of 111. Last year's decline came on top of a 47% drop from 2019, when Chinese investment totalled $1.57bn. Dr Shiro Armstrong, director of the East Asian Bureau of Economic Research, where CHIIA is based, said the decline in Chinese investment in Australia outpaced falling global foreign investment last year. "Foreign direct investment fell globally by 42% according to the United Nations (UN)," Dr Armstrong said in a media release. "UN data is measured differently, but the fall in Chinese investment to Australia was much larger." Chinese companies have invested across all sectors of Australia's economy in recent years, but last year they only bought into the real estate ($357m), mining ($321m) and manufacturing ($119m) sectors. The drop is at least partly due to Australia's investment settings during the Covid-19 pandemic. The government announced temporary measures in March that would subject every proposed investment to scrutiny by Australia's Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB). Previously, a review only applied for "non-sensitive" transactions if the investment was worth $930m, or $213m for investors from countries without a free trade agreement with Australia. The aim was to prevent a fire sale of distressed Australian assets to foreign owners, but it also delayed investments as the FIRB dealt with a backlog, blowing out the review period from 30 days to six months. The Australian government also announced additional reforms to its foreign investment laws in July, which added a national security test and allowed the treasurer to cancel deals retrospectively. In August, the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg stopped the $600m sale of Japanese beverage giant Kirin's wholly-owned Australian subsidiary Lion Dairy and Drinks to China Mengniu Dairy. Trade tensions The latest figures come against a backdrop of increased diplomatic tensions tensions between Australia and China. Trade ties have been particularly strained since Australia first called for a rigorous investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic in April. In response, China has imposed tariffs or trading restrictions on Australian goods such as barley, wine, beef and lobster. In some cases, the tariffs of wine have been more than 200%. The tensions have also had an impact on coal, with dozens of coal ships stranded off China's coast unable to unload their cargo. This has caused alarm in Australia as China is its biggest trading partner, accounting for close to 40% of exports. Nevertheless, Australia's trade balance with China hit a six-month high in December, as China's demand for Australian iron ore made up for restrictions on other products.

Vintage technology: ‘It sounds so much cleaner’

Air Vice Marshal Rich Maddison is a senior RAF officer with decades of flying experience. "As an Air Force we are as high-tech as you get, but this, this is just me." He is referring to a miniature computer with a black and lime green screen and miniscule memory that uses AA batteries to power a 1997 design. It is a Psion 5 device and for AVM Maddison it represents his personal aviation history. The dated device is where he keeps his own flying log. Hailing from an era when computers came with their own programming languages the Psion invited users to tinker with its limited applications. He could take fields in its address book and convert them to resemble a pilot's logbook. Every pilot records each flight in columns listing such details as the date, aircraft type, crew names, purpose of flight, route flown etc. AVM Maddison was also issued with a physical logbook but his Psion allowed him to build an automatic monthly summary of his flying hours that could be used to tell him how many hours he'd achieved on a particular aircraft or with one of his colleagues. Today's RAF uses its own advanced flying program to compile this data, but this lacks the personal bond AVM Maddison has with his Psion. "I'm on my third physical logbook and that's what gets signed off every year, but I get a lot more out of my Psion." The AA batteries only need replacing every couple of months so he doesn't have to worry about recharging it like a contemporary device and without an internet connection it's pretty secure. It has travelled the globe with him, often when he's been in charge of a Puma helicopter, another old machine that celebrates 50 years of RAF service in 2021. "The Puma has been upgraded of course, just like my Psion!" His logbook opens with an image of a Puma rising to fly away, a piece of graphic art he created. This very personal program has been picked up by other Nato pilots over the years. He's happy with an iPhone and tablet and admits that the Psion "feels like a brick compared to a smartphone", but the little flash drives that feed its software are very practical. While on flying training in Norway AVM Maddison came across another pilot using an even earlier version of his logbook program. "I took out my flash drive and gave him an upgrade," he laughs. More Technology of Business The Psion's hard keyboard is one of the reasons this device is still doing duty after almost a quarter of a century. Silas Brown, a supervisor in computer science at Cambridge University, still uses a Psion to collect his thoughts at events. "I am partially-sighted so I prefer typing with a real physical keyboard rather than the on-screen ones the world has switched to. Yes, there are Bluetooth keyboards, but that is an extra item to juggle. The Psion can display large print and…

UK 4G smartphone owners may be due £480m payout

About 29 million people in the UK may be entitled to compensation of up to £30 each if a legal claim from watchdog Which? is successful. It is suing chipmaker Qualcomm, claiming it breached UK competition law by taking advantage of its dominance in the patent licensing and chip markets. Which? alleges that it charged inflated fees to manufacturers, which were then passed on to consumers in the form of higher smartphone prices. Qualcomm said the case had "no basis". "As the plaintiffs are well aware, their claims were effectively put to rest last summer by a unanimous panel of judges at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the United States," a spokesman told the BBC. Which? is seeking damages for all affected Apple and Samsung smartphones purchased since 1 October 2015. It estimates individuals could be entitled to up to £30 compensation each, depending on the type of smartphone they bought. Anabel Hoult, chief executive of Which? said: "We believe Qualcomm's practices are anti-competitive and have so far taken around £480m from consumers' pockets - this needs to stop. "We are sending a clear warning that if companies like Qualcomm indulge in manipulative practices which harm consumers, Which? is prepared to take action." It has filed its legal claim with the Competition Appeal Tribunal, which will decide if it can go ahead. Qualcomm, one of the world's biggest producers of mobile phone chips, has faced a series of allegations about anti-competitive behaviour. In 2018, the European Commission fined the firm €997m (£858m) for violating competition laws in a series of deals it made with Apple. And in 2019, it issued another €242m fine for abusing its dominant position in the 3G chipset market, following a four-year investigation. Qualcomm is appealing against both findings. The Federal Trade Commission in the United States also sued the firm for unfair practices in the way it licensed its technology back in 2017, but had its case dismissed last year.

Ikea boss warns tariffs will lead to higher prices

The boss of Ikea has told the BBC he fears that global trade tensions will lead to higher prices for customers. Jesper Brodin, chief executive of Ingka Group, which is the furniture giant's holding company, said imposing restrictions such as tariffs "normally doesn't benefit the ordinary people". Many countries have imposed new tariffs and other restrictions on imports in recent years. The trend was accentuated by the US under former President Donald Trump. And the World Trade Organization says even before the pandemic, trade restrictions were on the rise. "Normally it leads to cost increases on the product in the end of the day. And there are some concerns about that going on, not only in India but globally," Mr Brodin said in a BBC interview. Ikea has invested billions of dollars in India in ambitious expansion plans, but it imports the majority of the products it sells in the country, from furniture to kitchenware. That means it has fallen foul of higher import taxes imposed last year by Narendra Modi's government as part of his self-reliant India drive, putting it at a disadvantage when competing with domestic rivals. As in other countries, pricing is crucial and Mr Brodin suggests buying stock locally could help. "We are on the move to drive optimal sourcing and find ways with governments and within the company to try to mitigate that." Climate change responsibility Wherever those products come from, Mr Brodin is forthright about the need to make them in a way that addresses the challenges of climate change and sustainability. "I actually think Covid is teaching us to take the collective human challenges in a more serious way and a more responsible way," he says. He explains that recycling will become ever more important in minimising the impact consumption has on the planet. "Ikea's mattresses in the future cannot be based on virgin material. We need to find smarter ways. "We will be more people to share the resources on the planet. So it's both the right thing to do, morally, ethically, but also from a business perspective." Ikea will not be the only company adhering to these values, he predicts: "This is not charity, this is the new economy 2.0, the new business model of the world." Forced labour Another headache for many multinationals is how to ensure forced labour is kept out of their supply chains. A recent BBC investigation raised questions about cotton from China's Xinjiang region, although not that used by Ikea. China's government denies there is any forced labour. The US is among those governments trying to tackle the issue. This week, the Biden administration raised the prospect of new laws to "enhance corporate accountability". Mr Brodin agrees with the need for companies to take responsibility: "Here is an area where we need to work with common standards in the world." "There need to be verifiable methods" to check supply chains, he adds. Ikea works with external companies to review its own checks and Mr Brodin says…

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