The Agency Workers Regulations 2010 (AWR) have now been in force in the UK for six months.
Designed to give temporary workers parity in pay and employment conditions after 12 weeks, you might think that by this point there would be consensus on how to implement them correctly. But you would be wrong. Large companies such as Morrisons, Premier Foods and Carlsberg experienced a media storm when they tried to use a solution known as the Swedish Derogation to limit their obligations to temporary workers.
This involves workers being technically employed on permanent contracts by the agency and paid a minimum amount between assignments.Entirely legal, it flies in the face of the intention of AWR and the spirit of the law. Other companies have let temporary workers go, given them a new role before the 12-week qualifying period is up, or hired them 11 weeks at a time.
So if big firms’ HR departments don’t seem to know exactly what to do, what about recruiters?
Recruiters have spent years studying AWR and its implications since it was first mooted by the EU, becoming the de facto experts in the process.
But even they have found implementing it correctly a complex business. Are temporary workers eligible for uniforms after 12 weeks? Should holiday pay be limited to the agreed standard hours? Can lump sum contracts circumvent AWR? Do limited company contractors fall inside or outside AWR?
When Meridian Business Support sought to resolve these at a summit in London in February, we found there were more questions than answers, with recruiters split over most key issues.
Some clarification was obtained over the Swedish Derogation model - Robert Porteous, the government’s lead official on the matter, said it’s officially viewed as just a different way of applying the regulations - although it might still be construed as less than best practice.
While clarity will emerge from the potential legal challenges, the government cannot leave it up to the courts alone to make sense of this legislation. Large users of agency workers such as the food industry need clarity so they can operate their businesses without fear of negative press or class action suits.
The Swedish Derogation clarification from Robert Porteous was most welcome. But all those affected by AWR have been made to wait too long for the rest of the answers. We need them soon so we can implement AWR correctly and get on with business.
In the meantime, Meridian is organising a second AWR summit this autumn to bring together the key players and opinions in the hope of finding further areas of agreement.