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April 16, 2013

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Safety fears over recruitment-sector deregulation

The Government wants to loosen the regulatory regime for employment agencies by, among other things, removing their current duty to provide temporary workers with health and safety information about their role.

Under the Government’s proposals – contained in a consultation, which closed last week – the Employment Agencies Act 1973 and the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003 (the Conduct Regulations) would be scrapped.

The body responsible for regulating agencies in the non-licensed sector, the Employment Agencies Standards Inspectorate (EASI), would also be closed.

The Government envisages replacing the 1973 Act and the Conduct Regulations with simpler legislation, limited to a few areas, including upfront fees charged to job-seekers; clarity on who is responsible for paying temporary workers; work contracts; and access to justice. 

This would bring an end to the current duty, expressed in the Regulations, for employment agencies to provide job applicants with information about any health and safety risks relating to a role, and the steps the hirer has taken to prevent, or control these risks.

The Government believes that any risk to a work-seeker is minimal, as hirers would still have to comply with their health and safety duties, while it is in their interests to ensure they are attracting and receiving staff who are suitable for the placements they are offering.

Construction union UCATT is particularly concerned by the plans, owing to the high number of agency workers in its industry. It points out that the level of non-compliance among employment agencies in the construction sector was demonstrated by a targeted inspections exercise undertaken by the EASI between 2010 and 2012. According to UCATT, the regulator inspected 59 agencies operating in construction and found 54 (92 per cent) to be in breach of the Conduct Regulations, prompting it to issue warnings.

The union’s general secretary, Steve Murphy, said: “Rather than scrapping legislation the Government should be extending the Gangmasters Licensing Act to cover other areas, such as construction, where unscrupulous agencies operate. Those agencies that play by the rules and treat their workers with dignity and respect have nothing to fear from licensing.”

The Recruitment & Employment Confederation is also adamant that the EASI should not be discarded. As part of its response to the consultation, it stressed the need for enforcement activities to be refocused rather than removed, adding: “Getting rid of the current Inspectorate would be a retrograde step and could jeopardise both workers and compliant businesses.”

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