The latest developments on agency workers’ rights have placed the spotlight on working conditions for temps. How can HR deal with them fairly and legally? Roisin Woolnough reports
The role of temporary workers in the UK labour market has never been under so much scrutiny.
Last month, the European Union confirmed that it was to agree to the CBI and TUC’s deal to give agency workers equal pay rights to permanent staff after working for an employer for 12 weeks, despite a directive pressing for those rights to be in place from day one.
But that’s no excuse for employers to sit back on their laurels. Temporary staff account for three per cent of workers at any one time, according to the Confederation of British Industry. And at the moment, that demand is even higher than normal as many employers are trying to fill skills gaps without taking on more permanent employees.
A report earlier this year by professional services provider KPMG and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation shows that demand for temp workers is buoyant, while permanent staff hires are in decline.
The credit crunch is partly to blame, with employers loath to take on new staff in case they have to lay them off again, with all the ensuing costs and bureaucracy. Employers enjoy the flexibility of being able to take on and then shed temps as demand fluctuates, or as internal finances dictate. “There has been a shift towards some employers hiring temps rather than committing to full-time staff,” says Richard Grace, joint managing director at recruitment firm Gordon Yates. “This is because they can backpedal more easily.”
Justifying the cost
Mark Roberts, operations director at recruitment agency Gap Personnel, says employers are also keeping a close watch on the cost of temps and making managers account for any extra labour expenditure. “Many businesses are really focusing on their cost base and therefore making their senior managers justify the use of temporary labour,” he says.
Susan Fanning, partner at law firm DLA Piper, thinks that – despite the EU’s decision to agree to equality after 12 weeks – the status of temporary workers is still bound to change over the next 18 months or two years. “One way or another the current position will change,” she says. “It is not clear what the next stage of the directive is, but there is bound to be some movement this year when the French get behind the [European Union] presidency this month.”
Fanning says the main emphasis of the directive is on access to pay and the same benefits and employment conditions as permanent staff. There is also the controversial possibility of employment protection on the dismissal side.
UK businesses have been lobbying for these changes to come into effect – if they have to – at 12 months. But at the moment, Fanning says it is looking as if the cut-off period will be six weeks.
The directive is meant to protect and be beneficial to temps. However, the increased costs and administrative burden that it is bound to cause could actually work against them and lead to a reduction in demand for their services. “Although there are strong arguments for and against the AWD, the general feeling in the recruitment industry and across our clients is that it could stifle the flexibility of agency workers,” says Roberts. “Furthermore, industry analysis carried out by the CBI found that 57 per cent of companies questioned would decrease agency use under the AWD and 10 per cent would stop using agency labour completely.”
Employment status claims
Businesses don’t want the extra costs or administration and nor do they necessarily want temps to start making employment status claims. To protect themselves, Fanning says employers must make sure that all paperwork relating to agency workers reflects that they are an employee of the agency. “And be careful about including agency employees in more mainstream areas, such as training,” she says.
That said, a chief complaint made by temps is that they are treated as second-class citizens in the workplace. A Gordon Yates survey found that 27 per cent of temps dislike the limited career development of temporary work, 14 per cent dislike the lack of recognition, and six per cent dislike not being part of a team. Yet, temps have a lot to offer and may even be able to teach in-house staff a thing or two. “An advantage of agency staff includes the potential extent of their experience,” says Isabelle Simon-Evans, assistant director of people and organisational development at the charity, The Children’s Society. “Experienced agency staff who have carried out a variety of placements may come with a wider knowledge base of processes and systems and an ability to hit the ground running.”
Be careful that your permanent staff don’t feel outdone though. Managers need to let permanent staff know what any temps are being brought in to do and why and that everyone is to work together. Integrate the temp with your permanent workforce, particularly if it’s an assignment of some longevity. “A little bit of input and integration goes a long way,” says Grace. “Some companies are very good at bringing temps in, getting them accepted and part of the team quickly.”
Take good care
The temp needs to feel an important, valued part of the workforce. If employers want to get the best out of the temps they use – and happy people tend to make better, more productive workers – they need to take care of them.
This begins with induction. Induct a temp well, make sure they know what they’ve been hired to do and why and there’s a greater chance they can do the job they have been hired for.
For some organisations, their casual workforce is so important that they take very good care of them. Many large retail organisations keep individuals on a database and re-hire them during busy periods. Asda has 10,000 seasonal workers on its payroll for key times of the year, such as Easter, Christmas and the current sunny season. “They are contracted to work a minimum of 10 weeks a year,” says Stuart Price from the colleague relations team at Asda. A major benefit for Asda of retaining these seasonal workers is that they can hit the ground running. “We only have to train seasonal colleagues once,” he says.
Many of them will be on board now that summer is here. The agricultural industry, catering and hospitality, tourism also all make heavy use of temps over the summer months.
So as HR departments build up their summer workforce, the need to think long-term about your temporary workforce is more pressing than ever.
Top tips: Dealing with agency workers’ rights
- Don’t stick your head in the sand. The situation will continue to move this year so be ready for it
- Keep an eye on developments
- Consider getting involved on the lobbying side
- When new legislation comes in, make sure your paperwork reflects that agency workers are employees of the agency, not yourselves.
Source: DLA Piper