The government is consulting on reforming the employment agencies regulatory framework, with the aim of “reducing the regulatory burden and allowing businesses to play an active role in developing their own methods of maintaining standards”.

It is seeking views on when it is appropriate for the government to impose rules on the recruitment sector and when the industry should decide the rules itself. However, while this follows the “burden on business” theme of the majority of consultations published by BIS since 2010, many of the proposals appear to be a reinforcement of the status quo.

Four outcomes are sought:

  • recruitment companies are restricted from charging fees to work-seekers;
  • there is clarity on who is responsible for paying temporary workers for the work they have done;
  • the contracts temporary workers have with recruitment companies do not hinder their movement between jobs and the temp-to-perm fees recruitment companies charge hirers are reasonable; and
  • work-seekers have the confidence to use the sector and are able to assert their rights.

Providing clarity on charging fees and responsibility for paying temporary workers are not in themselves controversial, but the Conduct of Employment Businesses Regulations are already clear on these issues.

And while any strengthening of the right of temporary workers to move between jobs is welcome, the proposals do not include measures to prevent victimisation of workers who do.

Iain Birrell of Thompsons Solicitors said: “We detect a characteristic government sleight of hand in this consultation. An impression of strengthening temporary workers’ rights is being given, when there is no real improvement.

“The government needs to take this opportunity to make a real difference by doing more to ensure that the prohibition on agencies providing scab labour is enforced. The Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate is ineffective in doing this, either because it is under-resourced or because it lacks inclination.

“While much is being made of individual rights, including whether individual civil enforcement such as employment tribunal rights would be more effective than the current criminal enforcement regime, this focus is imperfect as far as the issue of scab labour is concerned. It is trade unions, not individuals, who are the victims of non-enforcement and who are better placed than individuals are to take action.”

Access the BIS consultation on reforming the regulatory framework for employment agencies and employment businesses. It closes on 11 April.