Prospects looking good for temporary workers

Aug 28 2003 by Brian Amble Print This Article

The days of the seasonal ‘summer job’ look as if they are dying out in the UK as organisations make major changes in the way they use temporary and contract workers.

According to a new report from The Work Foundation, while almost all companies in the UK (more than nine out of ten) use some form of temporary, casual or agency employee, only four out of ten organisations still have roles for seasonal workers.

The Work Foundation asked UK organisations about the way they employ agency, seasonal, casual and contract workers and found major changes in patterns of use.

The most popular, used by more than eight out of ten organisations, are agency workers. Fixed term contractors are used by three-quarters of organisations with seasonal or casual staff bringing up the rear.

The main reason for using temporary staff is now strategic. The top two reasons organisations give for using non-permanent staff were to provide flexibility, either for business cycles or short term staffing short-falls.

Organisations are also clearly keen to control fixed costs and are much more adept at managing fluctuations through the use of temporary cover. More than eight out of ten service sector organisation in the survey used temporary employees to match demand and supply fluctuations.

For those people in temporary positions, their situation is increasingly good. Nearly seven out of ten companies report that they make some temporary staff permanent and that they give increasing parity with permanent employees. Rates of pay, sickness benefits and training are also increasingly in line with those for permanent workers.

Reassuringly, almost two thirds of companies felt that the impending Agency Workers Directive, which brings in new rights for temporary workers, will not affect their use of temporary employees. This suggests that UK companies are more prepared for the wider impacts of this directive than some commentators have suggested.

But differences become very apparent when the roles and treatment of the different types of temporary worker are investigated.

Fixed term contractors are significantly more likely to undertake senior and middle management and professional roles. Agency workers are more likely to carry out administrative and blue collar roles. Casual and seasonal workers are the least analysed group, perhaps reflecting their perceived value to the organisation.

These divides carry through into recruitment and work. Six out of ten contractors are go through the same formal recruitment process as permanent workers and four out of ten are hired to work on a specific project. In contrast, the same proportions of agencies workers are likely to have less formal recruitment process and to provide short term cover for sickness and holidays.

Nick Isles, deputy director of advocacy at The Work Foundation, said that as flexibility becomes an area of real business necessity, organisations are using temporary working to deliver that last vital few per cent of advantage.

"Flexible working, such as annualised hours, is dramatically changing the needs for temporary workers, as are other developments such as the use of older staff to inject knowledge into a business," he said. "To quite some degree, this explains why there seem to be fewer and fewer summer jobs.

"One excellent trend is the greater parity being given to temporary staff. Managers understand the need to engage all their people and that they can expect a better job if they treat staff fairly. The other main ingredients for best practice in this area are taking care with recruitment, taking care with contracts and forming good relationships with proven recruiters and agencies."