The Professional Contractors Group (PCG) held a round table event yesterday, chaired by their managing director, John Brazier. The key issues on the agenda were the legal definition of the term ‘contractor’, how to influence political parties ahead of the general election and how the negative effects of the ‘Agency Workers Directive’ can best be tackled.

This event was attended by stakeholders from sector, industry and national bodies along with recruiters and industry commentators. There were speakers from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), tax specialists and an Emeritus Professor of Employment Law. The PCG had invited a government speaker to attend but the invitation was declined.

The different terms for contractors were discussed as used in different industries such as freelancers, interims, locums and supplies. Information gathered at the event suggests that politicians view only full time employment as the ‘proper course’ and therefore contractors are seen as ‘deviant’ for not following this route. With regards to defining contractors in the employment law statute books it was agreed that they must make a distinction between contractors and traditional small businesses.

It was agreed that contractor bodies hoping to influence political agendas must reach agreement now as manifestos are currently being created. One speaker, however, warned that no political action on contractors will happen quickly as it will take until the next election – to be held no later than 3rd June 2010 – for pledges to reform legislation to be written into manifestos and then at least another year for implementation by the victorious political party.

The EU has driven the Agency Workers’ Directive and this was widely recognised at the meeting. This has been particularly problematic as there is no understanding of the flexible workforce which is represented by freelancers and contractors in the UK using agencies who effectively act as sales and marketing departments to contractors. Also, it is difficult to reach an understanding of what constitutes a ‘vulnerable worker’. The implementation window for this directive is April 2010-October 2011. A consultation is in process by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills on its implementation.

The consensus of the day was that contractors continue to be poorly defined and understood despite providing a necessary and valuable service to UK PLC.

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