The hire and fire economy

Vince Cable’s opposition to Tory donor Adrian Beecroft’s ‘no fault’ dismissal proposals apparently led to him being branded a ‘socialist’ by the venture capitalist.  In railing against the plans  for further labour market deregulation, Cable may have forced Coalition colleagues to ditch proposals that would allow employers  to sack staff considered ‘unproductive’ without explanation. For growing numbers however, this sort of labour market insecurity already exists.  There are, for example, now as many as 1.4 million agency workers in the UK – constituting up to 6% of the total workforce.

Agency staff or ‘temps’ as they used to be  known as,  have traditionally been used to fill short term gaps but these days agency workers are increasingly hired for longer-term placements; so employers don’t have to recruit new contracted employees.  This is now often the case  with low grade civil service employment as well as many school support staff . Agencies generally charge their clients by the hour and take their own cut before they pay the worker. Most agency staff have  no way of finding out why a booking may have finished and certainly no way of challenging it.

One survey of agency workers cited by the TUC showed that half had been in the same placement for more than 6 months and a third for more than a year. It was also the case that only a small minority had moved back into the labour market by using agencies as an intermediary stage towards securing permanent employment. In otherwords for the vast majority, agency working has become a way of life.

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