Agency Workers Regulations – Panic or Plan Sensibly Part 2

In my last post I summarised the main points of the AWR and got you to think about how they would affect your organisation.  There has been a delay as to what the future of the AWR would be under the new coalition government, but the government has just announced that they won’t be reviewing AWR.

So now it is time to decide what you should be doing to equip your organisation and when. I have been lucky enough to speak with Ann Swain, Chief Executive of the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) and will share her point of view with you later on in this article.

To begin with, let’s tackle the first question which may spring to mind as a hirer…

Should I just hire freelancers directly and thus circumvent the Directive?

Unlike workers employed directly, agency workers do not have rights to claim unfair dismissal, request maternity or paternity leave or claim redundancy pay. This makes them a flexible resource for employers to meet unexpected peaks in demand and cover for absences. Employing workers directly, even on zero hour contracts, means workers may well qualify for those additional rights.

So as a hirer what shall I do about it?

You will need to make sure you understand the scope and implications of the regulations and assess the potential impact the proposed regulations will have on your business. So you will need to start as early as possible to develop plans with your recruitment partners to minimise the costs and potential disruption the implementation may cause.

But please proceed with caution in planning…

This is because, even though the AWR is here to stay, there are still areas that need clarity particularly in regards to:

  • simplifying the definition of “pay” – this is imperative to reduce the amounts of legal cases
  • the administrative requirements around the application of the qualifying period to patterns of infrequent short term assignments – clarity around this will enable the right systems and processes to be put into place
  • a robust definition and test for legitimate self-employment – an absolute necessity, as to who is in scope or out

These are certainly matters I would like to see resolved and the Government has committed to “use the time that is still available before the Regulations’ entry into force to develop the best possible guidance to help employers comply with their new obligations.” (Ed Davey).  So we will see what happens – and I of course will let you know.

What does the CEO of APSCo think?

I recently spoke to Ann Swain, CEO of APSCo, who cautioned against anxiety, because the government still have not published their guidance document (expected early Spring 2011) and there are just too many key areas that need clarification. Ann stated “Employers should audit their current use of Agency workers and estimate the cost of equal treatment. In the professional sectors this may be negligible. They should review current policies, procedures and common practice to ensure compliance. ”

Ann and I discussed at length the countless training companies and organisations out there who are promulgating the fear factor, stressing the importance of full planning and the need to implement various processes immediately whilst offering their services to assist you at sizeable costs.  Essentially, they are there to make a quick buck. It is just too early to do anything apart from educate yourself on what the AWR is and keep abreast of any legitimate updates.  Believe me, I have been to quite a few seminars and you come out feeling that everything is too up in the air to do anything.  So educate yourself but hold fire, would be my advice on any serious planning and implementation, otherwise you could find yourself re-planning in the Spring having wasted valuable time, money and resources.

Start reviewing your organisation and make sure you can answer these questions:

  • Where do you use agency workers in your organisation?
  • Do they currently get the same pay and working conditions as your direct employed workers? (Highlight the ones that don’t).
  • How will you make vacancies available to your agency workers?
  • Do you have the collective facilities that need to be made available?

As we hear of any updates regarding AWR at Source, we will pass them onto you, because together we can ensure that through proper planning, AWR is implemented with minimal cost and disruption to our businesses.