As an HR type, I’ve used agency temps plenty of times. The main attraction of agency workers is the flexibility for employers, particularly in the current economic climate. They form a key part of the ‘flexible workforce’ which means that employers don’t have to commit to employing anyone, just in case the business goes pear-shaped and they need to lose them again! And temps are low maintenance – they don’t need all the policies and procedures and entitlements of the usual employment terms and conditions. You can pick them up and put them down again like a biro, as long as you make sure they aren’t discriminated against and their health, safety and wellbeing is looked after.

Of course, this flexibility comes at a cost, and employers pay a premium for it through agency fees. But if the temps have the same T&Cs as employees, as they now do after 12 week’s service thanks to the new Agency Workers Regs, this does pretty much remove much of the benefits to employers. You may as well just hire someone directly on a fixed term contract from that point and save yourself the agency fees! You could also go through the faff of swapping your agency temp for a new one every 11 weeks – maybe not ethical but if you’re unburdened with a conscience, it’s an option. Of course, you lose out on 11 weeks of experience and knowledge and have to train up your new bod and hope they’re not rubbish… So it’s not ideal really.

The AWRs also allow some ‘day 1’ entitlements to temps – like being able to use staff canteens and other shared facilities. (Although quite frankly, if you don’t let temps make themselves a brew or use the microwave, then you’re a meanie who doesn’t deserve staff.) The cost of the new T&Cs though could be prohibitive, especially for smaller employers who struggle with resources and budgets.

So then, how to get round the AWR without actually doing anything immoral or unlawful? Well, if you’re prepared to put in a bit of time and effort, the most obvious answer is to cut out the middle person and hire your own temporary workers directly. The AWR only applies where there is a 3-way relationship – employer, agency and temp. Kick the agency to the kerb and you can hire temps on any terms you like, within reason – basically like hiring a contractor.

I once worked with an organisation that relied heavily on temp staff for work such as data entry and envelope stuffing, to deal with business peaks and troughs. They were spending around £120k p.a. sourcing them all from agencies. I drafted a set of basic T&Cs and pay rates for hired workers, who didn’t have employment status so were just as flexible as agency temps, but without the mark-up fees, and started sourcing temps directly. So, contacts of existing staff mostly – friends, family members, the next door neighbour’s former flatmate’s ex-colleague or whatever. (We didn’t offer an incentive or reward to staff for this, but you could if you wanted to.) Once news began to spread, the company found that people were coming to them rather than the other way around! And a small fortune was saved. They also built up an ever-expanding pool of regular temps, so there was always someone available at short notice if needed.

Many of the temps then started applying for fixed-term or permanent roles – already familiar with the company, they were ideal choices, plus another small fortune was saved on agency recruitment fees. Bonus! Plus we had staff extolling the virtues of the company to their jobseeking chums and encouraging them to apply for temp roles – free PR! In fact the only downside was that the agencies they’d been using for years were naffed off and stopped taking me out for lunch, but hey ho.

Direct temps still need to be looked after and treated well, and I provided an appropriate induction for them as well as H&S info, necessary on-the-job training, a copy of their signed T&Cs etc. Although really you should be doing this for agency temps anyway, so no additional effort there! I also often had brief interviews for potential new temps, to weed out the muppets – you may assume an agency will do that for you but in my experience it doesn’t always happen!

So the moral of this story is, consider breaking up with your agency and bringing in direct temp staff. With a bit of an initial investment of time and effort, you can not only save yourself a few bob (and probably a fair amount of mither), but you can also create a great opportunity for your business by creating your own tailored labour market and improving employee relations. And the agency? Well, I’m sure they’ll get over you and move on… just don’t expect any more lunches.

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