Government inquiry into work told not to meddle

The government has been warned against “meddling” after it launched a new probe into whether the use of workers who use recruitment agencies should be restricted.

Raising the prospect of “steps” to “constrain” the use of agency workers, a House of Commons committee said it wanted those with a view to respond by December 19th.

It is one of eight areas that the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee will probe in its inquiry -- The Future World of Work, which it said follows the ruling against Uber.

But lumping ‘gig economy’ workers into the same mould as professional agency workers, who have rights under the AWR and ‘Conduct Regs,’ is “wrong,” says staffing body ARC.

“The terms [of the inquiry] do not sufficiently distinguish between agency workers and those operating in the so-called ‘gig economy,’ said ARC’s boss Adrian Marlowe.

“‘Gig’ is clearly open to abuse… [and while we would] not call for regulation of gig workers…this area does demand modernisation to avoid confusion in the future.”

Marlowe also pointed out that hirers generally use agency staff for short term assignments, not just to avoid employment rights, which he says the inquiry terms of reference suggest.

Ian Wright, the committee’s chair, said: “In recent months we’ve seen growing evidence of agency workers and those working in the 'gig economy' being exposed to poor working conditions. This growing trend raises questions over employment status and lack of worker rights.”

Published separately on ContractorUK today, the questions include one that asks about casual and agency workers, specifically whether the “balance of benefits” between such workers and end-users is appropriate.

Then, without an explanation about why businesses should use them less, the inquiry asks whether there “should…be steps taken to constrain the use by businesses of agency workers.”

Julia Kermode of the Freelancer and Contractor Services Association, is particularly concerned that agency workers – part of the flexible workforce that she says the UK needs for the economy ahead of Brexit -- faces a potential paring back.

“The Agency Workers Regulations were designed to ensure fair and equal treatment of agency workers compared to permanent employees in similar roles,” she said. “The government should not be meddling with how firms choose to manage their affairs.”

Kermode wants the committee to “tread very carefully,” partly as changes to one part of the flexible workforce could adversely affect another, and because she believes the genuinely self-employed would suffer from any new red tape.

Mr Wright hinted that the inquiry is aware of the need to strike a balance. “We want to hear from all interested parties so that we can help the government foster a vibrant, dynamic, innovative economy with laws that deliver the benefits of flexibility but which prevent exploitation,” he said.

The inquiry comes after Ed Vaizey, the former culture minister, has reportedly suggested that gig economy workers should be paid the national minimum wage, but without their end-users necessarily having to provide further rights, like sick pay or holidays.

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