Launching the Corby Employment Agency Code of Practice

Corby probably has the highest concentration of employment agencies in the country. Some act properly and treat people fairly and the work they do helps supports local businesses by providing them with a flexible workforce that enables them to respond to changes in demand and conditions in their markets.

However, there are employment agencies operating in Corby who are exploiting workers and adding significantly to a climate of job insecurity and a ‘race to the bottom’ with regard to pay and conditions. In May of this year, I convinced HMRC and the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate to carry out a three-day operation, visiting 34 local employment agencies. They uncovered £100,000 owed to 3,000 employees in the area.

In response to this I have two tabled two Private Members Bills in Parliament.  One that seeks to end the exploitation of zero hours contracts, the other that seeks to extend the powers of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to enable it to regulate employment agencies in all sectors of the economy.

As well as this action in Parliament, I have been working hard locally in partnership with the Labour Leader of Corby Borough Council, Tom Beattie, to set up the Corby Employment Agencies Forum. The aim has been to establish common, high standards of practice within the employment businesses’ sector in the town.

Today we are launching our Code of Practice (which can be downloaded here) with pledges from a number of agencies and employers to sign-up and abide by its terms. We have developed this through engaging employment agencies, trade associations, client companies, temporary workers themselves and trades unions in the work of the Forum.

We intend the Code to be a kind of ‘kitemark’ for those companies engaged in the employment of temporary workers within the town – a guarantee that they will operate in a legal, fair and socially responsible manner in these transactions. Borrowing from some of the content of the Gangmaster Licensing Authority Standards, it sets out three sets of responsibilities for those involved in temporary working:

  • Employment Agencies/Businesses
  • Their Client Companies
  • Temporary Workers

Gaining the buy-in of employers is crucial, given their power to influence the behaviour of the agencies with which they contract. The Code offers them the demonstration of a commitment on the part of these labour suppliers to operate in a lawful and ethical manner, providing a component for a company’s quality strategy and its corporate responsibility charter. In return, employers commit to:

  • Avoiding the replacement of permanent jobs with temporary employment through effective workforce planning
  • Carry out regular reviews with their agencies to establish that the management of temporary workers on site is carried out effectively and professionally
  • Contract only with agencies that sign-up to the Code

The Forum and the Code do not replace the need for a proper regulatory framework for employment businesses. However, the current government have weakened this – through the recently-announced winding up of the Employment Agency Standards Agency – rather than taking action to tackle abuses in the sector. In these circumstances, I am determined to do what I can to make Corby and East Northamptonshire a great place to work where laws designed to protect working people are upheld, everyone is treated fairly and with respect when they are at work and there are routes from temporary to permanent employment.

With the Forum promoting and up-holding this Code, I believe that we will make a real difference in creating an ethos of fairness and establishing an appropriate balance of power in the local job market.

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