Temporary staff employers stuck on AWR

Being uncertain about how the Agency Workers Regulations will impact their staffing levels is the most common reaction from employers facing the ‘equal treatment’ rules from next month.

From October 1st, end-users must provide temporary workers who use recruiters with the same working time, pay, maternity and holiday leave as their permanent employees, from week 12 in the job.

But while it has been clear from the outset that only “genuinely self-employed” workers would be excluded from the rules, almost half of end-users are still “undecided” about how the AWR will impact their headcount.

In fact, more than four in ten employers last week admitted to being unsure about what changes they plan to make to their workforce ahead of the AWR taking effect, 24 days from today.

Slightly fewer said they know they will not change how they manage and use temporary workers after October 1st, indicating they have looked into the AWR – in contrast to the 23% who were unaware of it.

Despite the varying levels of employer awareness - and preparedness, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, which produced the figures, said the “industry as a whole” was ready for the AWR.

Although client awareness “remains patchy”, recruiters, “on the whole”, are “fully geared up” to help employers smooth the implementation of any AWR-related changes, the REC said.

Still, implementing the rules “will not be easy,” cautioned Marshall Evans, chair of REC’s employment policy committee, not least for temps at the 23% of end-users who say the AWR will force them to cut their use of such non-permanent staff. 

In line with the finding, the Department for Business has set the AWR’s total cost to employers at £1.8bn a year – expenditure that business groups say their members could do without in the current economic climate.

“[However] things have moved on since then” the Association of Recruitment Consultancies (ARC), said of the official estimate, pointing out it was drawn up in 2009, before the rules were revised.

“The government was persuaded to draw back from its most draconian ideas, and the result is that the regulations in their current form can be worked with, and the impact is likely to be far less.” 

Indeed, only 14% of end-users foresee having to make changes to how they manage and use temporary workers as a direct result of the AWR, the REC research shows. 

The confederation’s Tom Hadley reflected: “Although some employers may see reducing agency use as an obvious short term option, the need for flexible staffing arrangements will outweigh concerns over the AWR in most sectors".

Adrian Marlowe, ARC’s chairman, seemed to agree: “Certainly there will be an on-cost to those [employers] that historically have used agency workers and retain policies to pay new employees more.

“But those that wish to continue using agency workers at the same rates and terms as before have the opportunity to do so in many cases,” he said “provided they take appropriate steps.

“Also those agency workers that operate a profession or a business undertaking can be excluded from scope under the regulations, a measure that agencies supplying business professionals will be keen to take advantage of.”

Tuesday 6th September 2011