Just because you employ a temporary worker, it doesn’t mean their entitlements are just as fleeting. With controversial changes to the law on the agenda, Louise Druce looks at what firms need to do to better manage their benefits to ensure a successful relationship for all.
With threats to resurrect a directive giving temporary workers equal rights to their full-time counterparts, the pressure is on for employees to ensure they are managing benefits more effectively.
The UK enjoys a vibrant temping market. Once seen as the stomping ground for unemployed people looking to get a foot on the job ladder or a more convenient arrangement for working mums, temporary workers now prevail at all levels across a broad spectrum of sectors.
This ranges from agency staff coming into a company to meet extra demand during busy working periods, to self-employed people being contracted for a specific project. But a survey by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and recruitment specialist Pertemps revealed that up to 250,000 temporary placements could be jeopardised by EU plans to breathe life back into the draft Agency Workers Directive.
Anne Fairweather, head of public policy, REC
“As proposed, the directive would seriously undermine the flexibility that temps offer to firms, hurting the economy and making them far more likely to rely on overtime flexibility from existing workers instead,” says CBI deputy-director general John Cridland.
At any one time, three per cent of employees in the workplace are temps, but 58 per cent of over 500 firms polled (which employ some 1.1 million staff between them) claimed the proposed law would lead to a significant cut in their use, while an even bigger majority feared increased costs.
Added bureaucracy aside, Anne Fairweather, head of public policy at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), says while she believes temporary workers should be valued in the workplace and paid well, one of the main issues is that the directive was first touted in response to the perception that temporary workers were being abused in the workplace, a view she calls outdated.
“Times have changed. It’s down to how each firm manages its temping staff,” she adds.
Defining the relationship
When managing temporary worker benefits, you need to look at how they are being employed. Treating an agency worker as your own can land firms in hot water. “It’s important for HR not to act as a manager. If you have a problem with a temporary person’s work or something you would treat as a disciplinary matter, you should refer the complaint back to the agency,” Fairweather explains.
“If you put people though your own internal processes, they would have the right to go to an employment tribunal and claim the right to be treated as an employee of the company.”
The same goes for people who are self-employed but work for a firm through an agency or company that might not be their own. Businesses need to treat this situation as a company to company contract so that it is up to the person who is self-employed to provide their own benefits, says David Wreford, principle and consultant at HR consultancy Mercer, otherwise the Inland Revenue will start asking some awkward questions.
For temporary workers who are employed directly by the company, there are a whole plethora of issues surrounding discrimination and equal pay. According to Wreford, these workers are predominantly women so if comparable benefits offered to full-time workers are absent, the company may be sexually discriminating against the temporary employee.
What firms need to do is set out what the job entails and what their expectations are from the outset. “This is often where the relationships with agencies fall down,” says Fairweather. Rather than simply calling up an agency and requesting a temp, she recommends companies discuss, in-depth, any expansion plans, qualifications needed to fill the post, any training requirements etc. Once the temp arrives, they should have a basic induction with easily accessible documentation.
Wreford says you also need rationale for providing temps to avoid resentment amongst full-time workers. For instance, industries with a high prevalence of contract workers tend to pay them higher rates that match a full-time worker’s pay plus the value of the benefits and other securities they receive.
If these temps are used simply to plug a staff shortage, there is the risk they will not fully integrate with the rest of the company. If they are recruited to bridge a gap in specialist knowledge, however, it is less of an issue because of the added value they are bringing to the firm.
Integration and loyalty
Paul Laurie, operations manager at Manpower, says one of the biggest grumbles from temporary workers who are with a company more than six weeks comes when they see other people getting perks when they receive nothing, despite doing exactly the same work.
Paul Laurie, operations manager, Manpower
To avoid this, Manpower pays above average benefits to its workers, such as competitive paid holiday and company maternity pay on top of statutory obligations. “We have many temps now on the same bonus structure as in the company they are working for. It breeds integration,” he adds.
Not all companies are reluctant to get involved with making sure staff are treated well. Laurie cites one that insisted on temporaries being eligible for paid holiday from day one, without having to accrue days off.
“Companies have to look at what they offer permanent staff and how much they want to integrate temporary workers,” he says. “If the job is short-term, it might not be so relevant. If it is longer term, I think HR and managers have the responsibility of making sure people are being treated fairly and are happy.
“The major benefit is loyalty, to both the agency and the company they are working for. They may not want a permanent job to get entitlements, but you can make them feel like the temporary role is like a permanent job, just for a shorter period of time. You only get the best out of anybody if they feel part of that company.”