Companies working in the food and drink industry may not think that 1 October 2011 is a significant date – but it will be for any business that employs agency workers. On that date, the Agency Workers Regulations (AWR) come into force and will have far-reaching implications for the sector.
Due to seasonal variations in demands, the food and drink industry arguably uses temporary workers more than most. Businesses cannot afford to ignore the changes and assume they won’t be affected.
We recently conducted a survey to find out how much businesses know
about the AWR and the results made interesting reading. We found that while 90 per cent of businesses knew that the regulations were coming into force on 1 October, nearly half of companies we surveyed did not know the impact the legislation might have on their business.The key changes
So what will the new laws mean for the industry? The key change is that after a 12-week qualifying period, agency workers will now be entitled to the same basic employment conditions as a permanent member of staff working in ‘the same’ or ‘broadly similar’ capacity.
This would mean that if you had a team made up of five permanent members of staff and one temporary worker, the temporary worker would be entitled to the same terms and conditions of employment as the other five after the qualifying period had been completed.
Some businesses may think that an agency worker has to be at a place of work for three months before they’re entitled to equal treatment in their work, but this is not the case. An agency worker will be entitled to equal access to collective facilities, such as a canteen or transport services, from the first day of their assignment.
There are various occupational benefits, including sick pay, a pension and maternity pay that are excluded from the AWR, as are some bonuses. These are based on organisational performance or are designed for the long-term motivation of employees and are not considered to apply to agency workers.
Employers also need to understand that there are specific rules about how an agency worker will actually accumulate the 12 weeks of work to complete their qualifying period. If a temporary worker works for three weeks and then is off sick for one week, when they return, it’ll be their fourth week of accumulation. Employers may think that the 12-week period has to be continuous service, but this isn’t the case.Mis-matching
A major challenge for businesses could be matching a temporary member of staff with the ‘comparable’ permanent employee. If this is done incorrectly, it could mean that specific rights are granted or not granted mistakenly. The mis-matching of roles could end up costing a business time and money or lead to an employment tribunal.
It’s vital that companies get to grips with the new regulations before they are implemented and invest some time in understanding them – if they only start to think about the new legislation after 1 October, it could have a detrimental effect on the business.
There have been suggestions that employers may think they can ‘get round’ the new rules by only using shorter-term contracts. This could be a route that companies follow, but not one that would be recommended – many employers are known to prefer longer-term contracts as they believe this helps them secure the best workers. Trying to avoid the regulations isn’t going to be good for their business: the food and drink industry can’t ignore the new rules and employers need to ensure they understand the legislation and comply with it from day one.The possible impact of the regulations
One in ten employers said they may now avoid using temporary workers as a result of the new legislation. It could be argued that these employers are nervous about using agency workers as they feel they don’t fully understand the new regulations and don’t want to be penalised for unintentional non-compliance.
If companies have these concerns, there is guidance available on implementing the regulations from various sources. Businesses can consult recruitment agencies for further advice and information is available from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which has published guidance on its website. Businesses shouldn’t be daunted by the new rules, but they certainly need to ensure that their employment practices comply with the regulations.
Rather worryingly, our survey also found that just over a quarter of businesses said they wouldn’t be seeking further advice on the AWR. These companies may think that, due to their working practices, they won’t be affected by the new laws. However, if they’re ignoring the issue and ‘hoping for the best’, it’s not a course of action we would advise!Time and money
If roles are mis-matched, this could end up costing a company time and money or lead to an employment tribunal. In this instance, employees will be entitled to any pay that would have been due and this would be on top of the legal fees and the negative publicity associated with the case.
Some companies may hear snippets of what the AWR might mean for their business and think the changes won’t really affect them. While there will be some employers that won’t need to change their practices after 1 October, companies must be sure they’re working within the rules after that date. As with most things, prevention is always better than cure.
James Mallick is operations director at Top Gear Recruitment. Top Gear provides work at some of the best known employers in the UK.
For more information visit : www.topgearrecruitment.co.uk
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