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Changes to working rights of temporary lawyers

Many law firms use temporary workers, particularly for secretarial and paralegal roles, but also qualified lawyers, as it affords them the flexibility of staffing big deals or cases without the burden of massively increasingly the permanent headcount (which potentially wouldn’t have been given clearance anyway). But changes in the way that agency workers are used (ie those not directly hired but supplied by recruitment businesses) could be about to change.


In 2008, the Agency Workers Directive became European law and the Agency Worker Regulations 2010 (AWR) implemented this directive in England, Scotland and Wales with effect from 1st October this year. In short, AWR gives temporary workers the right to equal treatment with regards to pay, holidays and working conditions once they have completed a 12 week qualifying period (in the same job, for the same hirer). There are also some rights (such as access to facilities) which will be effective from day one of the temporary worker's assignment as well as new rights for pregnant agency workers. The regulations exclude redundancy pay, sick pay and pensions among other things.


The Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) has refuted claims made in an article in the Sunday Telegraph (7th August 2011) that employers will reduce the number of temporary workers they use when the AWR comes into effect due to the increase in staff costs. According to a press release by the REC, the data from their monthly employer tracking survey JobsOutlook indicates that 79% of business are intending to maintain or increase the number of agency workers they use in the next year with only 5% likely to reduce numbers.  This compares to the 20% of business that were looking to reduce numbers of temporary workers according to the Sunday Telegraph article.


There were initial concerns that employers (as well as recruitment businesses) were not fully aware of the new regulations and their impact on their work-force but Kevin Green, Chief Executive of the REC, says that “with the support and expertise of professional recruiters, businesses intend to continue using temps to meet their workforce needs”. He also suggests that the impact of AWR will be less dramatic than some predict, as 50% of temporary staff work less than 12 weeks already and only 13% are paid less than their permanently “employed” colleagues (and in fact are often paid more).


It is too early to say exactly what the financial burden on law firms will be if they continue to use agency workers, but it is likely that HR departments will very carefully weigh up the pros and cons of reducing its temporary workforce and substituting them with permanent hires, or looking at short term (less than 12 weeks) assignments which bring with them the burden of time (and money) spent on replacing individuals on a more regular basis, or just accept the regulations and continue as normal. The knock-on effect on levels of permanent hiring will therefore be interesting to see.


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Articles by Robina Clough

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