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'Now is the time for HR managers to get to grips with agency worker regulations'

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As Britain emerges from the worst recession since 1930, agency workers are playing a significant part in maintaining the competitiveness and efficiency of the UK.


The findings of a recent Adecco study support this; over half of respondents (52%) heavily rely on the use of temporary workers and said their organisations wouldn’t survive without them. Yet, 80 per cent of HR professionals admitted they had no idea about the consequences of non-compliance to the new regulations coming into force on 1 October next year.

Agency Workers Regulations (AWRs) come from a complex and somewhat contentious piece of legislation that has its origins in EU directive that was under discussion for more than a decade.

Following the general elections in May there was speculation that the coalition government were planning to review the regulations as passed by the Labour government.  However last month it was announced that the legislation would stand and UK businesses will have to adapt to the changes. The Government have promised guidance notes to help businesses to understand AWR but they are not expected to be available until next year.

The legislation has been designed to give agency workers the same basic working and employment conditions as if they had been employed directly to do the same job. In terms of working hours, overtime, breaks, rest periods and holidays, after twelve weeks of work in an assignment, agency workers will be entitled to equal treatment by reference to what their terms would have been had they been recruited direct to do the same job. Temps will also be entitled to equal access to collective facilities such as childcare facilities, transport services or a canteen.

Occupational benefits such as sick pay, pension, and maternity pay are excluded from AWR, as are bonuses, which are based on organisational performance or designed for the long term motivation of employees. Agency workers will also be entitled to be informed of any relevant vacancies in the company they have been working for so they have the opportunity to apply for permanent positions.

The legislation is expected to have a major impact on how employers use temporary staff and presently British businesses employ 1.3 million agency workers every day. Adecco’s survey revealed that almost a third (29%) of HR professionals would recruit fewer temps as a direct result of the regulations.

To minimise the burden and disruption this new legislation could cause it is vital that HR managers start getting to grips with AWR now. Liability could be with the ‘end user’ if they fail to supply the agency with information about relevant working and employment conditions.

It would be a mistake for businesses to stop using agency workers simply because they don’t fully understand how AWR will affect them. Using agency workers is a key strategy in workforce management for many businesses in uncertain times when the commitment of hiring a permanent member of staff cannot be justified.

As the flexibility of temporary staff allows companies to react quickly to business needs, many find that they are better able to balance the workload and to meet the challenges of an uncertain economy. As they have experience of the organisation, temporary workers are also well placed to fill permanent roles when the time is right.

There is no blanket solution for adapting to AWR, because each company will be impacted differently depending on how they use temporary workers and the detail of their internal HR policies. Failure to understand and abide by the legislation may result in tribunal proceedings and a potential award of compensation against the party at fault. Start preparing now and don’t be caught out in 2011.

Andy Smith is head of regulation and employment law at Adecco