Rights for agency workers

27 May
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Agency workers, Benefits, employee rights   |  No Comments

It’s in the news on a daily basis at the moment. The proposal to give agency workers the same rights as permanent workers. Good idea? Well, as with everything else in life, that depends on which side of the fence you analyse the situation from…….

The agency worker plays many different roles within organisations including:

  • sickness cover
  • holiday cover
  • maternity / adoption cover
  • peak season resourcing
  • special project resourcing
  • getting around recruitment freezes
  • getting around having no headcount
  • actively managing the workforce to provide a lean core operation and a flexible peripheral operation
  • Lower cost model as no benefits are due from the company

At the moment, agency workers are paid by their agency and the agency invoices the company for a service. The agencies tend to fix the rate depending on the skills, experience and the nature of the role to be performed. The agency also charge a % fee on top of the hourly rate that the agency worker gets. Part of this fee is to provide sickness and holiday pay to the agency worker.

Under the proposal, after 12 weeks working for a single employer, the agency workers will be entitled to the same pay and benefits as the permanent members of staff. I believe that in some cases this is absolutely right. In the case of a recent client, one secretary had been an agency secretary for the client for 10 years – without a break. She was not entitled to the same holidays, pension, notice periods etc. For 10 + years of loyalty….. that is just not right! It also costs the company a fortune in agency fees – where is the business sense in that?

For a short period of sickness or holiday cover, I fully accept that it is more practical to use an agency worker, but on long term assignments agency workers are not the solution. Recruit employees on fixed term contracts if necessary, move them around as they are needed within the business, multi-skill the workforce to reduce costs and improve motivation – think laterally and respect the human resources which are fundamental to the business success.

If an organisation does use agency workers, the model needs to be changed. Agency workers need to work for one agency and be employed by that agency. If they want to work for another agency they should resign, just like an employee would have to do from their job if they want to work elsewhere. The agency should commit to certain levels of work, pay and benefits in line with an industry standard. The like for like comparison should be with other agency workers operating in the same environment, not with permanent members of staff at the client organisation.

It is not just a piece of legislation which is needed, it is a change in attitude and buying behaviour of organisations and the supplier behaviour of agencies.

Public Sector pay deals

20 May
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in employee rights, inflation, pay, public sector, strikes, unions   |  No Comments

I have primarily worked in the private sector, although a couple of assignments have been with ex public sector organisations (Transport and Education). If we, as reward professionals, tried to get away with the kind of pay settlements that are being offered to our public servants, then we would be loosing all our top talent and we would be kissing goodbye to our business success.

There is an expression ” If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”. The public sector organisations are in grave danger of ending up with a team of monkeys. It is only so long that employees will put up with being treated as second class citizens.

As Unite, The Police Federation and Prospect all ballot members on strikes over pay (or the right to strike) we look to be moving back to the 1970’s with a strike looming around every corner.

Organisations, whether private or public have a responsibility to their staff as well as to their customers. There is a moral responsibility to award a pay review in line with inflation. If they fail to do this, then they are in effect decreasing the value of their employee’s pay packet each year as their take home wages will not go as far.

Although many employees work for the public sector for reasons other than pay, pay is a hygiene factor. It needs to be at an acceptable level before the other elements can take effect. If pay is too low and employees can not maintain their standard of living, then no matter how good the pension, training, progression or ethical approach, employees will be faced with no option other than to leave and seek a salary level in the private sector which is more acceptable.

All salary increases have to be paid for, there is no difference between the private and public sectors. If private sector companies can find the money, work to a tighter budget and make the organisation leaner and more efficient, then so can public sector organisations. What is saved on employee turnover, retraining and low productivity as a result of low moral, can be used to fund pay rises in line with inflation.

Flexible working

15 May
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in businesses, Flexible working, HR, war for talent, work life balance   |  No Comments

Today’s news headlines are that 4.5m additional parents will be given the right to ask their employers for flexible working arrangements.

I can hear the groans and the cheers now. Employers will have a mixed reaction, for some the right to request is an administrative nightmare, they don’t have the resources or the knowledge to handle the requests. For others it is welcomed with open arms as it means flexibility in their work force, retention of sills and an increased ability to provide quality service to customers – as with everything, if it is implemented properly.

For parents, well as one myself, flexibility is absolutely essential to ensuring our sanity as we work not only for our employer and our family, but to achieve a balance between the two. I was fortunate, I had good childcare for both the kids from a young age. The problems actually came once my eldest started school. The school day is shorter than a day at full time nursery. Parents are asked to help with outings, fairs and attend meetings and this changes the dynamics significantly. Giving parents of older children the right to request flexible working is ‘the right thing to do’.

But what does this mean in reality?
Well, just because an employee has the right to request flexible working arrangements, doesn’t mean they are going to be able to work flexibly. The business still has the ability to say “no”. There are several reasons why a business may say no and they include the burden of additional costs, inability to recruit to meet the needs of the business and a detrimental impact on performance or quality.

So, what could flexible working ‘look like’?
A flexible working arrangement is a permanent change to an employee’s contract and might involve any of the following:

  • reducing working hours – i.e. work part time
  • a change of work location – i.e. work from home or a company office nearer to home
  • changing working patterns – i.e. start an hour earlier and finish an hour earlier, 9 day fortnights, annualised hours ………
  • job share – 2 people share a full time position

Is it good for business? Yes, as long as the business manages it properly.

Is it good for customers? Yes, because it can be used to improve quality of service.

Is it good for families? Yes, because it enables parents to balance the needs of the family with their desire and need to work.

Could more be done to ensure that this is implemented in a way which supports businesses and their employees?

Yes, while parents and carers have the right to ask to work flexibly, other employees do not. This is detrimental to those without child and elder responsibilities. Flexible working should be a matter of course, available to everyone and one day it will be, but businesses need to make a psychological shift to see the benefits and be bold enough to make the move. Those that do, will win the war for talent.

Reward Strategy – Has your business got one?

14 May
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Benefits, Business, Compensation, Human Resources, Reward   |  No Comments

29% of companies do not have a reward strategy (Personnel Management, 1 May 2008). Can this really be true? Do you know that l think it probably is. Companies spend anything from 10% to 90% of their turnover on their employees and have no plan for doing so, no idea if they are spending their money in the most cost effective way and no idea if the money spent on compensation and benefits is actually helping their business to succeed.

So what is a reward strategy and how can a company get one?

Like a business strategy, a reward strategy sets out what the business is aiming to achieve and how it intends to achieve it. In this case, the focus is on reward. How can we structure our pay so that it supports our business goals? Do we incentivise individuals or teams? Do we reward performance on an ongoing basis or just once a year with an annual bonus? Do the benefits we offer support our ethical beliefs and our company culture?

A reward strategy sets out the basis on which spend decisions are made. It provides a frame of reference and clear parameters which all transparent and communicated so that employees know what is expected of them and what they receive in return to thank them for the contribution they make to the success of the business.

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