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UK employers unprepared for Agency Workers Regulations

UK employers unprepared for Agency Workers Regulations says Randstad research

Only 7% of UK employers have conducted an assessment of how they will be impacted by the Agency Workers Regulations (AWR), one of the most complicated legislative workplace changes to hit the UK, according to research by Randstad, the world's second largest recruitment and HR services company. Over a third of organisations (37%) surveyed in Randstad's 'Shifting Sands' report admit that they are unfamiliar with the Regulations.

The AWR will come into force on 1 October 2011 and will ensure that agency workers receive the right to the same basic working and employment conditions as those in the equivalent permanent job recruited directly by their host organisation. Some rights will apply from day one, such as the same access to facilities and job vacancies. Other rights, such as pay and some benefits, will apply after the agency worker has been in the same job for 12 weeks.

Agency workers make up about four per cent of the UK workforce, the highest proportion in Europe, and Randstad estimates that at least half of them will be affected by the AWR.

The impact of the AWR will vary across industries, according to their use of temporary workers, with sectors such as construction, education and healthcare likely to face some of the greatest challenges.

Randstad reports that some large private sector organisations when downsizing during the recession made structural reviews of their workforces and are well prepared for the regulations, and that heavy and strategic users of agency workers tend to be more prepared than the thousands of smaller businesses that use temps on a more ad-hoc basis.

The company is running a major campaign to advise its clients and candidates about maximising the implications and opportunities of the regulations.

Brian Wilkinson, head of Randstad UK, says: "With the implementation of the AWR just a few months away, it is a concern that such a high proportion of organisations are so unprepared. We urge all users of agency workers to conduct a thorough assessment of their human capital resources and the impact of the Regulations. Doing this properly will enable organisations to optimise the structure and efficiency of their workforces."

Randstad advises organisations to work closely with their recruitment consultancy, directly or through their Managed Service Provider, to prepare for the Regulations, including the key initial steps of identifying which agency workers will be exempt or covered by the Regulations and which components of pay and benefits will need to be comparable after the 12 week period. They also need to be prepared for the day one right to access key facilities and relevant vacancies.

Wilkinson adds: "Whilst Randstad recognises the teething challenges that the AWR poses users of agency workers, those that supply them and the workers themselves, we support the Regulations in their ambition to professionalise the use of agency workers and, in particular, give greater recognition to those that are paid on an hourly basis and often working unsocial hours.

"The equalisation of basic working and employment conditions for agency workers will encourage more people that don't want permanent work to enter the labour market. That is good for them and it's good for UK employers."

In the spring, the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is due to publish Guidelines on interpreting the Regulations. Randstad is one of a number of contributors to the scoping of these Guidelines, aimed at providing the greatest clarity possible as to their interpretation. The company's research highlights that the key areas of clarification being sought by employers relate to pay and bonuses, the 12 week qualifying period and what reasonable endeavours need to be undertaken to comply with the Regulations.

Randstad's Shifting Sands report provides advice on managing the AWR and highlights other key challenges on the HR agenda this year, including preparation for automatic enrollment in workplace pensions for all workers, temporary or permanent, in 2012 the transformation of the public sector, as a quarter of the workforce is engaged directly or indirectly in delivering public services and appropriate recruitment and retention strategies in the light of skills shortages and demographic change.

Shifting Sands features in Randstad's multi-million integrated national marketing campaign, which includes prime time advertisements on national television, full page colour advertisements in daily newspapers, and online advertisements.

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