The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), the professional body for UK-based recruitment businesses, has become the latest voice in the staffing industry to raise concerns about employment policy proposals contained in the Labour Party manifesto.
Amongst numerous other measures, the manifesto pledges to abolish zero-hours contracts to ensure that workers are guaranteed a number of hours every week and to ban Umbrella Companies. If elected next month, the Labour Party would also transfer the burden of proof regarding employment status: the law would assume that a worker is an employee unless the employer can prove his or her self-employed status.
On learning about these plans after a draft version of the manifesto was leaked last week, the Freelancer and Contractor Services Association (FCSA), an Umbrella Company trade body, condemned the proposal to abolish Umbrella Services as “foolhardy” and demonstrating a lack of thought, consideration and understanding by the Labour Party.
Julia Kermode, the FCSA’s chief executive, said: “It would be foolhardy to ban Umbrellas unilaterally considering that this sector is worth in excess of £3bn in tax and National Insurance contributions to the Exchequer annually.”
She emphasised points that are wholly overlooked in the manifesto. Umbrellas allow contracting professionals to work independently for a sequence of end hirers. They also provide full employment rights to these contractors, including all the statutory benefits from holiday pay to sickness pay, paternity and maternity pay, pensions redundancy pay and adoption pay.
Now, the REC’s Policy Advisor, Richard Sagar, has weighed in on the manifesto pledges. While the REC supports appropriate legislation to protect workers and counter rogue providers who undercut compliant businesses, Mr Sagar tactfully took issue with the manifesto commitment to implement blanket bans.
Calling for the entire recruitment supply chain to be regulated under the Conduct Regulations, he emphasised the fact that a key driver of flexible working patterns is individual choice. Urging policymakers not to conflate zero-hours contracts with agency work, he said: “Any Government should not limit people’s ability to work in different ways but ensure they are making an informed choice.
We believe all workers, including temporary staff, must be treated fairly. The rights that agency workers are already entitled to are often misunderstood, and we will continue to argue that the priority should be to ensure that existing regulations are effectively enforced rather than creating more legislation.”
His remarks are entirely applicable to highly skilled contracting professionals who positively choose to work flexibly via Umbrella Companies in preference to salaried employment, as many supply teachers, social workers, nurses and IT contractors clearly demonstrate.