Request home working from day one in job

Employees will be able to request the right to work at home from their first day on the job under reforms to be announced this week.

Ministers are set to confirm laws to protect flexible working that were first mooted before the pandemic. Any employee will be able to make the request but the move is particularly aimed at enabling women, disabled people, parents and carers to balance their professional lives with personal commitments.

Under the present rules, employees cannot request a hybrid working arrangement until six months into a job. Employers are obliged to consider the request in a “reasonable manner” and have to make a decision within three months. If the request is refused, the worker may have grounds to take the company to an employment tribunal.

Ministers will confirm the change on Thursday. A government source said: “The business case is compelling. If you’re happy at work you’re less likely to leave, and companies benefit from motivated employees.”

Boris Johnson promised to strengthen flexible working laws in the Tory manifesto in 2019. Since then the pandemic has disrupted traditional working patterns.

This year the government created a flexible working taskforce, which provides advice to businesses managing the return of employees to the office. It is also examining the lasting effects of the pandemic on working habits.

Labour has called for all white-collar employees to be given the absolute right to work from home, something that has been ruled out by the government.

Alex Chisholm, chief operating officer of the civil service, admitted last week that many civil servants would not go back to the office. He said it was “difficult and expensive” to get staff into London for meetings and that flexible working had turned out to be a “huge positive”.

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Struggle to find workers worsens as vacancies rise

Employers created almost 200,000 new jobs last week as the struggle to secure workers continued to weigh on businesses, according to a report.

In the week to August 29, another 193,000 vacancies were posted online, taking the total number of active job adverts to 1.66 million, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation said.

Businesses have been struggling to secure workers for several months as demand has rocketed since the economy emerged from lockdown. The confederation’s report noted that job adverts in the past five weeks had been at their highest level since mid-December.

The figures suggest that recruitment challenges will persist. European Union workers leaving Britain during the pandemic and high levels of economic inactivity, as well as the furlough scheme, mean that the pool of available labour has shrunk just as businesses are gearing up to meet higher demand. In some sectors, such as logistics and hospitality, companies are having to offer higher wages and signing-on bonuses to secure staff.

“Demand for workers remains very high across the economy and shows no signs of weakening,” Neil Carberry, chief executive of the confederation, said. “With businesses in the particularly squeezed food, logistics and hospitality sectors starting to gear up for Christmas, the months ahead could be difficult, even with a large number of people coming off furlough in August and September.

“It is worth remembering that some of this could be short term. Large numbers of people are finding new work post-pandemic as the economy reshapes, but that realignment will take time and there is good evidence to suggest that the market will remain tight for some years to come, even if the current crisis passes.”

Adverts for dispensing opticians led the growth during the month, with the number of ads up 26.4 per cent during the week. This was followed by job adverts for driving instructors and vehicle body builders and repairers, both of which rose by 12.9 per cent.

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Staff ‘will quit if companies force them back to their desks full-time’

Four out of ten employees currently working from home would consider defecting to another employer if they were forced to return to full-time office working, according to a new poll.

The survey found an “overwhelming desire” by office workers for continued flexibility from their bosses even when Covid-19 restrictions are fully lifted.

In evidence of likely tension ahead, only 17 per cent of those polled wanted to return to the office full time, while 24 per cent say a return to full-time office working is precisely what their employers are requiring of them.

The poll, on the eve of so-called freedom day, comes amid warnings to employers that they are making a mistake if they issue blanket instructions for employees to return the office.

The poll of 4,400 people by YouGov last month found that 80 per cent wanted some ability to carry on working from home; 15 per cent wanted full-time home working, 26 per cent wanted it most days and 25 per cent wanted an equal split between staying at home and going to the office.

While many employers with office staff are making provision for hybrid working arrangements after restrictions are fully lifted, the survey found workers wanted more flexibility than employers were willing to give.

“Thomas Kessler, chief executive of Locatee, a workplace consultancy which commissioned the research, said: ‘The expectations of office workers have shifted enormously over the last 12 months’”.

Forty two per cent of employees said it would be “likely” to be a resigning matter if they were asked to return to the office full-time, with 22 per cent of them being “much more likely” to change jobs.

Some employers are increasingly concerned that remote working could be damaging productivity, morale and employee learning. However, expectations of a big return to the office on Monday have receded because of the change of tone from ministers and worries that it could increase the chances of being pinged and told to self-isolate, threatening holiday plans.

Richard Fox, an employment partner at Kingsley Napley, said government guidance to employers issued this week meant it would be far harder than some employers had expected to insist that their workers return to the workplace.

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Beware fake job interview scams that demand cash!

For the hundreds of thousands of people laid off since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the economy has started to move in the right direction. Job vacancies are steadily rising as increasingly confident companies go on a recruiting spree.

An unwelcome side-effect is that fraudsters have spotted an opportunity to make money from those desperate to get back into work. People looking for jobs are being scammed after answering fake adverts online and being asked to pay for background checks.

Applicants said that fake adverts online, including some on the job search site Indeed, took them to convincing-looking websites. Some even had video interviews with fraudsters before being told they had been given a job while others were sent bogus contracts or emails from fake HR departments inviting them to induction sessions.

They were then sent a link taking them to a fraudulent website — ukdbs.org — which said it carried out Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks, which will give details of any criminal convictions or bans from certain kinds of work, for £30. Many paid the fee and others had up to £300 stolen from their bank accounts before they realised that their fake employers had disappeared, according to victims’ reports on the business reviews site Trustpilot.

Once people left their bank details with the fake DBS website, their accounts were debited repeatedly, sometimes taking hundreds of pounds before victims spotted it and alerted their banks.

TSB said customers had reported losing up to £300 on fake DBS checks, but up to £4,000 in subsequent fraudulent calls from scammers pretending to be their banks. It refunds all customers as part of its fraud refund guarantee.

The Times reported the website to Action Fraud, the national crime reporting service, and it has since been suspended.

Suzanne Smith, executive director of barring and safeguarding at the DBS, said: “We know that some companies have taken money for DBS checks from job seekers who are relieved that they have been promised a job, but the DBS check never arrives and the job was never real. The exploitation of job seekers has risen in the pandemic and the methods being used are more and more sophisticated. ”

Keith Rosser, the chairman of JobsAware, a non-profit organisation that advises on how to avoid job scams and unfair working practices, said his staff were hearing up to ten reports a day, five days a week from victims of scams such as these — an 80 per cent rise since pre-pandemic times.

“Whereas in the past, they might have gone to an office to meet an employer, now job interviews are generally being held online on Teams or Zoom. It’s easy to fake a video job interview,” he said.

Amanda Paremain, 55, from Birmingham, lost her job and started looking for a new one in January, using the site Indeed. She saw a customer service role advertised at Oasis Holidays and was directed to oasisne.com, which had a notice saying the website was under construction (the real Oasis Holiday site is oasisholidays.co.uk). She sent a detailed application form.

She was offered a job and then sent a contract by the company which she said was so convincing that even her aunt, who is a lawyer, did not flag any problems. In a separate email, she was asked to click on a link to ukdbs.org and pay for a speedy DBS check as well as hand over her national insurance number.

“I clicked on the link and it quickly became clear that I was going to be charged a fee, and that is when the alarm bells started ringing. Why would they offer me a job when they hadn’t even done a Zoom interview or spoken over the phone with me?”

She visited Trustpilot, the business reviews site, and realised that scammers were posing as Oasis and that the DBS site she had been directed to was a scam. “I was in shock. I never thought you could get a job scam, especially on reputable job sites,” she said.

Paremain reported the fake advert to Indeed and it was taken down.

Sami Ayubi, 44, from Exeter, a part-time carer, thought he had found a job through a Facebook advert for Footistic, which claimed to be a social network for sportspeople based in Cardiff. He checked the Facebook page profile for the fake company and then did a Zoom interview on a Sunday evening. He was told that he could start the following week, but needed to pay for an expedited DBS check first. He became suspicious and reported the scam to Facebook.

“The advert I clicked on wasn’t a crazy get-rich-quick scheme or anything like that — it was simply ‘Would you like to work from home doing customer service work for £10 an hour?’,” he said.

Victims on Trustpilot reported having money stolen after being referred to the ukdbs.org site by fake employers including Rhino Logistics, Faegrian Interiors, Turnkey Marketing and Butterworth Books, which they found on Indeed.

Indeed said it took rule violations very seriously. “We have a team that uses automatic and manual means of identifying and removing fraudulent accounts as quickly as possible,” said a spokesman. “We encourage people to report any suspicious job advertisements to us. It shouldn’t cost jobseekers money to apply for a job; background checks are usually paid for by employers. Charging fees is a violation of Indeed’s rules for companies on our site.”

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Beware fake job interview scams that demand cash!

For the hundreds of thousands of people laid off since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the economy has started to move in the right direction. Job vacancies are steadily rising as increasingly confident companies go on a recruiting spree.

An unwelcome side-effect is that fraudsters have spotted an opportunity to make money from those desperate to get back into work. People looking for jobs are being scammed after answering fake adverts online and being asked to pay for background checks.

Applicants said that fake adverts online, including some on the job search site Indeed, took them to convincing-looking websites. Some even had video interviews with fraudsters before being told they had been given a job while others were sent bogus contracts or emails from fake HR departments inviting them to induction sessions.

They were then sent a link taking them to a fraudulent website — ukdbs.org — which said it carried out Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks, which will give details of any criminal convictions or bans from certain kinds of work, for £30. Many paid the fee and others had up to £300 stolen from their bank accounts before they realised that their fake employers had disappeared, according to victims’ reports on the business reviews site Trustpilot.

Once people left their bank details with the fake DBS website, their accounts were debited repeatedly, sometimes taking hundreds of pounds before victims spotted it and alerted their banks.

TSB said customers had reported losing up to £300 on fake DBS checks, but up to £4,000 in subsequent fraudulent calls from scammers pretending to be their banks. It refunds all customers as part of its fraud refund guarantee.

The Times reported the website to Action Fraud, the national crime reporting service, and it has since been suspended.

Suzanne Smith, executive director of barring and safeguarding at the DBS, said: “We know that some companies have taken money for DBS checks from job seekers who are relieved that they have been promised a job, but the DBS check never arrives and the job was never real. The exploitation of job seekers has risen in the pandemic and the methods being used are more and more sophisticated. ”

Keith Rosser, the chairman of JobsAware, a non-profit organisation that advises on how to avoid job scams and unfair working practices, said his staff were hearing up to ten reports a day, five days a week from victims of scams such as these — an 80 per cent rise since pre-pandemic times.

“Whereas in the past, they might have gone to an office to meet an employer, now job interviews are generally being held online on Teams or Zoom. It’s easy to fake a video job interview,” he said.

Amanda Paremain, 55, from Birmingham, lost her job and started looking for a new one in January, using the site Indeed. She saw a customer service role advertised at Oasis Holidays and was directed to oasisne.com, which had a notice saying the website was under construction (the real Oasis Holiday site is oasisholidays.co.uk). She sent a detailed application form.

She was offered a job and then sent a contract by the company which she said was so convincing that even her aunt, who is a lawyer, did not flag any problems. In a separate email, she was asked to click on a link to ukdbs.org and pay for a speedy DBS check as well as hand over her national insurance number.

“I clicked on the link and it quickly became clear that I was going to be charged a fee, and that is when the alarm bells started ringing. Why would they offer me a job when they hadn’t even done a Zoom interview or spoken over the phone with me?”

She visited Trustpilot, the business reviews site, and realised that scammers were posing as Oasis and that the DBS site she had been directed to was a scam. “I was in shock. I never thought you could get a job scam, especially on reputable job sites,” she said.

Paremain reported the fake advert to Indeed and it was taken down.

Sami Ayubi, 44, from Exeter, a part-time carer, thought he had found a job through a Facebook advert for Footistic, which claimed to be a social network for sportspeople based in Cardiff. He checked the Facebook page profile for the fake company and then did a Zoom interview on a Sunday evening. He was told that he could start the following week, but needed to pay for an expedited DBS check first. He became suspicious and reported the scam to Facebook.

“The advert I clicked on wasn’t a crazy get-rich-quick scheme or anything like that — it was simply ‘Would you like to work from home doing customer service work for £10 an hour?’,” he said.

Victims on Trustpilot reported having money stolen after being referred to the ukdbs.org site by fake employers including Rhino Logistics, Faegrian Interiors, Turnkey Marketing and Butterworth Books, which they found on Indeed.

Indeed said it took rule violations very seriously. “We have a team that uses automatic and manual means of identifying and removing fraudulent accounts as quickly as possible,” said a spokesman. “We encourage people to report any suspicious job advertisements to us. It shouldn’t cost jobseekers money to apply for a job; background checks are usually paid for by employers. Charging fees is a violation of Indeed’s rules for companies on our site.”

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Businesses are ready to start hiring, survey shows!

Companies are preparing to swell the ranks of their workforces for the first time in a year, according to a survey that suggests corporate confidence about an economic recovery and the end of the pandemic is on the rise.

A poll of 2,006 employers found that more planned to recruit staff over the coming weeks than were intending to cut jobs, reversing the trend of the previous quarter.

The survey, by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and Adecco, the recruitment firm, also found that business confidence about hiring was at its strongest level for 12 months, implying that the surge in unemployment may be near its peak.

Companies in the healthcare, finance and insurance, education and IT sectors were showing the most positive signs of being prepared to take on new staff, it found, while those in the leisure sector were still reeling from the effects of lockdown restrictions.

With Rishi Sunak due to publish his budget in less than a fortnight’s time, the CIPD urged the chancellor to extend the jobs furlough scheme for a second time or risk a fresh rise in redundancies later in the year.

According to the most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics, the unemployment rate hit 5 per cent between September and November, its highest level in more than four years. More than 200,000 people are estimated to have lost their jobs over the period, with redundancies running at their highest on record.

The next official figures on employment are due this week and economists think that another 30,000 people lost their jobs in December, with the rate up to 5.1 per cent. Some forecasters are predicting that unemployment will hit 7.5 per cent by the summer, particularly if the government does not extend the furlough jobs protection scheme, which is due to finish at the end of April.

Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market adviser at the CIPD, said: “These are the first signs of positive employment prospects that we’ve seen in a year. Our findings suggest unemployment may be close to peak and may even undershoot official forecasts.”

The CIPD is a charity founded more than 100 years ago. It acts as the professional body for the personnel sector. Its survey, carried out online by YouGov between January 5 and January 30, measures the balance of employers aiming to create jobs and those intending to cut them. It generated a reading of 11 for the present quarter, up from -1 for the previous quarter.

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More employers ready to cut pay!

Almost a fifth of employers have instituted pay cuts since the pandemic hit and nearly a third of the remainder are prepared to do so, according to a survey of managers across the country.

Eighteen per cent of 932 members of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) in an exclusive survey for The Times said that staff pay cuts had been made in their organisations.

Thirty per cent of organisations where pay cuts had not been made would still consider it if it was necessary for their survival.

Fifty two per cent said their organisations would not make pay cuts in any circumstances.

The poll also found that extending the furlough scheme was the most popular measure among managers for options the government had to ease pressure on employers.

Ann Francke, chief executive of the CMI, warned that pay cuts may be unavoidable: “So far most businesses have been able to avoid pay cuts by careful planning around government support, like the furlough scheme. If the government goes ahead with withdrawing the scheme, those businesses, especially in hard hit sectors, may find their position becomes unsustainable.”

The furlough scheme, in which the government shoulders a share of workers’ wages, is being phased out and will be completely withdrawn at the end of October.

Pay for many businesses is their single biggest cost. Total average pay fell 1.8 per cent between the three months to April and the three months to July when adjusted for inflation, according to the Office for National Statistics.

A second lockdown was by far the biggest economic concern identified by respondents, with 63 per cent citing it, though 27 per cent said that a no-deal Brexit on December 31 was a bigger worry.

The poll of managers was conducted between the September 15 and 18.

Respondents included a mix of managers from small and large businesses and from the public as well as the private sector.

Asked to rank their biggest management concerns, respondents said reduced customer demand, followed by motivating staff working from home and implementing social distancing in the workplace.

Twenty-five per cent of managers called for an extension to the furlough scheme, and 21 per cent for tailored concessions for specific industries; 17 per cent suggested a temporary cut in VAT, 11 per cent suggested a reduction in employers’ national insurance and 7 per cent called for a further holiday on business rates.

Sixty-one per cent of managers said their organisation had been treated fairly by their bank during the crisis, while 6 per cent said it had not. Asked the same question about their treatment by commercial landlords, 33 per cent said they had been supportive while 13 per cent said they had not.

According to the ONS data, pay fell most significantly in the construction sector, where it was down 7.5 per cent in the July quarter, and in the hotel, restaurant and retail sector, where it fell by 3.2 per cent.

While employers are reluctant to worsen the terms and conditions of existing staff, many are hiring new staff on inferior rates to the people they replace, according to recruitment consultants.

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New furlough rules (June 2020 onwards)

Flexible furlough

From 1 July the furlough scheme becomes more flexible before it ends completely on 31 October 2020. The flexible scheme applies to employers currently using the scheme for previously furloughed employees. Employees will continue to receive 80% of their salary, subject to the cap, but employers will need to share the burden of paying NI and salaries from August onwards.  As under the original scheme, employers can top up the wages above the grant for fully furloughed staff if it is feasible for them to do so. Employees can work part-time under the revised flexible scheme. Government guidance says that the capped figures apply in proportion to the hours not worked.

Timeline for the flexible scheme

There are now the following five stages:

June

From 10 June the furlough scheme is effectively closed for employees who have not been previously furloughed. Until June 30 employers can claim for 80% of furloughed employees current salary, up to £2,500 but the employee must not work for the employer. Employer National Insurance Contributions and certain pension contributions can be claimed too. Employers are not required to contribute anything towards furloughed employees’ salaries for June.

July

The new flexible scheme applies only for previously furloughed employees. These people can now return to work part time, but employers can still claim the grant for normal hours not worked. Any amount of working time and any shift pattern can be agreed with the previously furloughed staff. Until July 31 employers can still claim for 80% of the furloughed employees current salary, up to £2,500 as well as employer National Insurance Contributions and pension contributions. This only applies for the hours the employee doesn’t work. Employers must pay employees for the hours they work.

August

The main change is that from 1 August, employers will have to pay employee’s National Insurance Contributions and pension contributions, and can no longer claim a grant for these. Until August 31 the government will pay 80% of furloughed employees wages up to a cap of £2,500 for hours not worked. Employers must pay employees for the hours they work. Employers funding of employers’ NICs and pension contributions applies to both the hours not worked and hours worked if any.

September

From 1 to 30 September the government will pay 70% of furloughed employees wages up to a cap of £2,187.50 for hours not worked. Employers will pay 10% of wages to make up 80% total up to a cap of £2,500 plus employers’ total NICs and pension contributions.

October

From 1 October until the end of the scheme on 31 October the government will pay 60% of wages up to a cap of £1,875 for the hours the employee does not work. Employers will pay 20% of wages to make up the 80% total up to a cap of £2,500 plus employers’ total NICs and pension contributions

 

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Unemployment rate dips but jobs market feels the pressure

The number of unemployed people has fallen at its fastest quarterly rate in four years even though the jobs market shows signs of weakening after record growth.

Figures for people without a job showed a fall of 23,000 to 1.3 million in the three months to September, reducing the unemployment rate to 3.8 per cent. The rate for women was 3.6 per cent, a joint record low.

However, the number of people taken on fell at its fastest rate in four years. The number of people in employment dropped by 58,000 to 32.7 million. Although the fall was less severe than analysts had forecast, it is the biggest decline since the quarter to May 2015.

At 76 per cent, the employment rate fell by 0.1 per cent on the previous period, but was higher than the 75.5 per cent recorded a year ago and just below the record high of 76.1 per cent.

The quarterly fall in employment and unemployment alike indicates a rise in economic inactivity, meaning a growing number of people stopped looking for work and dropped out of the labour market. The Office for National Statistics said that economic inactivity was up 0.1 per cent on the quarter, driven by a 0.3 per cent rise for women.

Employment may be close to a record high but economists have warned that the country’s poor productivity could cap the prospects for pay growth.

Low productivity means that companies struggle to produce more with the same resources and so are unable to increase wages faster than prices. This causes living standards to stagnate.

Annual productivity growth was flat in the third quarter but grew by 0.3 per cent compared with the previous quarter. It marked the fifth successive quarter that output per hour worked failed to register a year-on-year gain.

Earnings continued to grow but fell further from the decade high of 3.9 per cent in the three months to July. Average weekly earnings growth, including bonuses, came in at 3.6 per cent in the three months to August, lower than the 3.8 per cent forecast by economists and the third consecutive quarter of slowing growth. Weekly earnings remain £3 below their pre-recession peak of £473.

Official GDP figures show that the economy expanded by 0.3 per cent between July and September, after contracting by 0.2 per cent in the second quarter. The UK avoided a recession but year-on-year growth slowed to 1 per cent in the three months to the end of September, the lowest level since the first three months of 2010.

The labour market has been resilient despite the wider economy struggling to gain momentum, which many economists attribute to Brexit uncertainty among employers, who are more likely to hire workers they can lay off later than make longer-term commitments.

However, signs of strain have been emerging over the past few months. In an indication of weak confidence among employers, the number of vacancies dropped by 53,000 to 800,000 in the three months to October — the biggest annual decline since the end of 2009.

Howard Archer, chief economic adviser to the EY Item [Independent Treasury Economic Model] Club, a forecasting group, said: “The jobs data are mixed but overall show a softening trend, indicating the labour market is undeniably faltering in the face of soft domestic economic activity, a weakening global economy and heightened Brexit and domestic political uncertainties.”

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Boom in flexible working for highly paid employees

The number of highly paid jobs offered part-time or with flexible hours has trebled in the past four years as workers turn their back on the nine-to-five.

The proportion of jobs with salaries of more than £80,000 advertised with flexible working options is up to 16 per cent, from 9 per cent last year and 5 per cent in 2016.

Supporters of flexible working said that the growth reflected changes in working practices in IT, finance and marketing as companies competed to hire the best applicants.

However, they say that too many employers fail to respond to demands for part-time or other flexible forms of working, especially from parents.

There were also differences by sector. In the legal profession, which has a reputation for having a culture of long hours, only 9 per cent of roles were advertised with flexible options. The picture was the same in engineering while in manufacturing only 8 per cent of roles were flexible and in construction it was 10 per cent.

The conclusions came from an analysis, commissioned by the consultancy Timewise, of 5 million advertisements for permanent roles on 450 online boards posted between January and April this year.

The adverts were searched for 16 key words such as part-time, working from home, job share or compressed hours.

The study found that 15.3 per cent of all advertised jobs offered some form of flexible working, up from 12.5 per cent in a similar study last year. In a survey in 2017 Timewise found that 87 per cent of adults wanted to work flexibly.

Despite the growth of flexibility among higher-paid jobs, researchers found most part-time jobs were for the lowest-paid roles pro-rata, with fewer such opportunities in the middle salary ranges.

Karen Mattison, co-founder of Timewise, said that the lack of more part-time jobs for mid-range roles was a key contributor to the gender pay gap because many mothers who worked flexibly on low salaries become stuck and unable to move to better-paid jobs with other employers.

Ms Mattison said: “Employers tend to give flexibility when people have earned their stripes. We would like to see greater transparency so that employers talk about their flexibility arrangements in a role in the same way as they would about salary.”

The survey found that part-time working was the most common flexible arrangement, cited in 44 per cent of roles, followed by flexible hours (27 per cent), home working (16 per cent) and flexible shifts. Job shares were referred to in just 4 per cent of advertised posts and 2 per cent were offered as school term-time roles.

Since 2014 existing employees with 26 weeks’ service have had a legal right to request to work flexibly. Employers must consider such requests and have a sound business case for refusing.

The government is consulting on whether to require employers to consider whether all jobs could be done flexibly.

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