Keep new temporary worker regulations simple

Employment groups have called on the government to ensure that new rules giving temporary workers the right to equal treatment do not add to the administrative burdens of employers.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills recently closed its consultation on the implementation of the Agency Workers’ Directive.

Under the Directive’s terms, temporary staff will be entitled to equal treatment with permanent staff on pay, holidays and hours after 12 weeks on an assignment.

However, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said the definition of what constitutes equal treatment is unclear and could add to the burden of compliance faced by employers.

Mike Emmott, a CIPD adviser, commented: “The Directive is unclear about what the benchmark for comparison should be. The CIPD believes that pay comparisons for agency temps should be based on internal pay scales applying to a comparable worker within the organisation doing broadly similar work.”

This, Mr Emmott continued, “would remove the need to look for evidence of market rates, and simplify consideration of what a hypothetical permanent worker would have been paid – which could otherwise be a recipe for confusion and uncertainty”.

It would also reduce the burden on tribunals in terms of both the number and duration of hearings.

The CIPD urged the government to make sure that agencies, employers and workers know exactly where they stand.

Mr Emmott added: “This will be the single most critical issue for employers in determining their response to the regulations, and their impact on the UK’s flexible labour market. Implementing the directive presents the Department for Business Industry and Skills with an excellent opportunity to rebut the charge of ‘gold-plating'."

In a CIPD survey, employers expressed concerns that the costs of complying with the Directive lay with the uncertainty surrounding the actual process of implementation rather than with managing fair and equal treatment.

The survey revealed that 45.5 per cent of respondents give agency temps the same basic pay as their permanent employees, while one in four (26.5 per cent) pay agency temps better than permanent staff. The majority (70 per cent) offer generally the same employment conditions to agency temps as to permanent staff.

Mr Emmott said: “When it comes to implementation the processes should be as clear and simple as possible. While our research shows that employers base decisions about using agency temps on a range of factors, the regulations should avoid undermining this core component of the flexible labour market.”

The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) also emphasised the need to pare down any costs and bureaucracy the Directive will impose.

Identifying the main problem as the practicality of implementing EU regulations that are ill-suited to the agency work model in the UK, the REC proposed a series of measures that will limit the effects of complying with the rules.

The Directive, the REC argued, should not be introduced until the end of 2011. Equal treatment should be established on objective grounds, such as pay scales and company practice, not on some hypothetical comparisons.

Equal pay should be limited to that of hourly wages; involving complicated bonus structures would be too complex to work out in an ad hoc temporary relationship, the REC said.

Self-employed workers in business on their own account should be exempt from the rules.

While genuine ad hoc arrangements, where a worker may move between a variety of clients in a 12-week period, should not add into the 12-week qualifying period, the REC concluded.

Kevin Green, the REC’s chief executive, said: “There are over a million temporary and contract workers out on assignment each week and it is thanks to these flexible working options that the UK jobs market is starting to show signs of life. There will be intense pressure to gold plate the new regulations, but the government must be brave and avoid the kind of cost, bureaucracy and uncertainty that would have the perverse effect of limiting job opportunities.”