Employer reputation placed at risk by agency staff cuts

Companies that cut their agency workers need to think beyond the legal implications and consider the damage it could do to the reputation of their business if handled inappropriately, experts have warned.

Last week, BMW’s Mini plant in Oxfordshire made 850 agency staff redundant just one hour before their shift ended. Staff anger at the lay-offs was widely reported, including staff throwing eggs and damaging cars in retaliation. Workers, some of whom had been at the plant for four years, were furious to be told they had no rights to redundancy pay or notice.

But BMW told Personnel Today the firm was “frustrated” with the media coverage, as staff were in fact given one week’s notice, in line with the law. Although people were asked not to return to the site, they would get paid for the week ahead, despite media reports saying they had just one hour’s notice, the spokeswoman said.

BMW also insisted it was the employment agency’s role to communicate with staff about their employment rights.

“This is not a case of saying ‘it’s nothing to do with us’ – we take it very seriously, but we have to follow the protocol with the agency,” she said. “The agency has to communicate with its employees.”

Yet Clive Fathers, employment solutions partner at law firm Grant Thornton, said employers that relied wholly on agencies to communicate workers’ rights could be heading towards disaster.

“You have to look at the broader impact these decisions can have in the market place and on the reputation of the company,” he told Personnel Today.

“You could also cheese off the employment agencies. People have long memories,” he added.

BMW used two employment agencies, Manpower and Right4Staff, to hire the agency workers. Right4Staff said it told employees their rights during recruitment, induction, and after 13 weeks with a single employer.

Comments from HR Space

What is often overlooked is that employers pay a handsome premium for agency workers to achieve the flexibility needed to react to market conditions and protect the core workforce wherever possible. Ask the employee on the shop floor if they disagree with this strategy.

Unions don’t like agency workers because they don’t pay the union membership fees and essentially make the union useless when it comes to any sort of demands they make on the part of the whole workforce.

Agency workers are human beings trying to make a living like everyone else. This will rebound on the agency industry. Perhaps there needs to be a union of agency workers.

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