Recruitment compliance in the UK: The good, the bad, and the ugly

In a general election year that kicked off with a recession (albeit a seemingly short and shallow one), staffing businesses are understandably looking for not only stability, but also growth opportunities. This requires a strong economy which, for the professional recruitment sector, also necessitates fair employment regulation in the UK, something that hasn’t yet been delivered in my view.

There may be current speculation of a Labour win, but we all know that curve balls can be thrown at us at any time and from any direction. For that reason, our policy team has been highly active in engaging with policy influencers in the main political parties.

While one party hasn’t yet found the magic formula that we want to see for recruitment, there are some policy intentions that we welcome – and others that need to be changed.

The Good

We’re already seeing some indications from the current Government that investment in skills is a priority, but there is something missing; namely the recognition of the critical role that staffing companies play in sourcing key talent. That being said, the Conservatives have committed to much-needed regulation changes such as the Off-Payroll set-off and the rolled-up holiday pay we saw confirmed last year. The incumbent party’s recognition that the Apprenticeship Levy and further Off-Payroll reforms are needed is also a welcome move, as is the planned clamp-down on umbrella noncompliance.

While Labour hasn’t yet had the opportunity to publish its manifesto, it has already been vocal on plans for creating a fair environment for all in the workforce, which would include addressing bogus self-employment as well as a potential overhaul of IR35 and employment status tax law.

For the Liberal Democrats, the focus on creating a strong and fair economy echoes the sentiment of the other two main parties. But what stands out in their current plans is their commitment to negotiating reciprocal low-cost, fast-tracked visa deals for key economic sectors, which Apsco has previously called for.

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The Bad

What is seemingly a struggle (for understandable reasons) is the ability to define the different styles of employment coherently and implement regulation with this in mind. Given the nuanced needs of professional contractors, agency workers, highly skilled white-collar staff, blue-collar workers and various other groups, there is no one-size-fits-all means of legislating employment.

I recognized this fact when I launched Apasco (or atsco at the time) 25 years ago. The world of work and recruitment has only become more complex in this timeframe. It is encouraging that policymakers across the three major parties have recognized this fact, but there isn’t yet a clear leader in terms of who has the intention and the solution to solve this.

The Labour Party’s plans for one “worker” status and a ban on zero-hours contracts are prime examples of attempts to implement one rule for all that could unintentionally weaken the strength of the labor market. On the other side of the table, the Conservatives’ intention to reform Off-Payroll does need to be underpinned by clear definitions of employment status that are written into legislation.

The (Potentially) Ugly

Of course, we can’t ignore the potential for a hung parliament, which might not turn ugly in the way we expect in a Western movie, but could prove disruptive in delivering positive changes in employment regulation. As we’ve seen in previous coalitions, ensuring that everyone is pulling in the same direction is difficult and can distract from the core issues. Our hope, should we end up with a hung parliament or coalition, is that the skills and employment agendas remain high on the priority list.

The UK’s staffing sector is the backbone of the country’s economy and that should never be forgotten. A pro-growth approach requires a pro-jobs mindset that ensures policy and legislation create opportunities, rather than barriers for recruitment.

Ann Swain

Ann Swain
Ann Swain is global CEO of APSCo.

Ann Swain

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