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UK – Staffing firms criticised in national TV programme

22 October 2013

British broadcaster Channel 4 yesterday aired a programme investigating unsavoury acts by some of Britain’s most well-known employers. The ‘Dispatches’ programme went undercover and interviewed workers on the ground to investigate claims of some legal but disagreeable practices.

The coalition government has touted the benefits of alternative and flexible working arrangements in times of economic uncertainty. However, recent headlines have focused on the growth of zero-hours contracts, and companies have also been criticised for implementing other policies that either circumvent regulations or go against the spirit of the law.

In Corby in the West Midlands, Local MP Andy Sawford told the programme: “Employment agencies can play a role in the labour market, but in my constituency I see lots of examples of exploitation; where people are not even paid properly, paid on time, don’t know from one week to the next if they’re going work. And if they moan about it, frankly they’re out on their ear.”

In one case an unnamed recruitment agency was charging a worker £15 per week to process their weekly salary. In order to receive their pay the worker had to pay the surcharge. When asked by the programme is he had challenged the company, he replied that he was afraid to challenge it too far for fear that he would be let go.

Dispatches showed the evidence of the charge to the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) who advised that this practice may be legal.  If the worker signed a contract that included this provision he has agreed to pay the charge.

A ManpowerGroup employee working for BT was interviewed by the programme as he was unhappy with the pay he had been receiving. In accordance with the Agency Workers Regulation, temporary workers are entitled to receive the same pay and benefits as permanent employees doing the same job after a period of 12 weeks. However, as the temporary worker was employed under a so-called ‘Swedish Derogation’ arrangement, he was actually a permanent employee of ManpowerGroup and, therefore, had no legal entitlement to receive the same pay as regular employees at BT.

Posing as business people seeking advice, Dispatches went undercover to recruitment agency Staffline. When asking how to ensure that their fictitious company could circumvent paying agency workers the same salary as permanent employees after 12 weeks, the Staffline Operations Director, Andy Coop, suggested that the company create a separate payment system for their permanent workers at their new office in Corby. 

It was the suggestion from Mr Coop, that at the Corby branch of the fictitious business, permanent employees’ salaries should be reduced so that agency worker salaries would also remain low. This would result in permanent employees at the Corby branch receiving lower wages than their other permanent counterparts around the country.

The CAB advised that this advice was clearly in breach of the Agency Workers Regulations, as Staffline was deliberately undermining the ability of its workers to get paid.

In a statement the recruitment firm Staffline CEO Andy Hogarth said: “Every day, Staffline Group finds work for over 30,000 people in the UK, also helping over 8,000 long term unemployed back into work annually. Andrew Coop spoke only in direct response to [Dispatches'] investigator's insistence that [the fictional company] was not willing to pay parity rates when moving from London to Corby, and wanted to know how they could legally do so. He did so within the scope of the Act. We always adhere to the UK laws and regulation, operate in accordance with best practices and principles and uphold the strictest ethical standards.”

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