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Complaints about recruitment agencies rose sharply over past year

4 Sep 2018 By Maggie Baska

Experts say growing awareness of workers’ rights probably triggered increase

Complaints about recruitment agencies have shot up over the last year, according to the Employment Agencies Standards (EAS) Inspectorate annual report. 

The report, which was published late last week, revealed that EAS received 1,261 complaints in 2017/18, representing a 52 per cent increase from 828 complaints in 2016/17. According to the report, “near half” of all complaints were received between December 2017 and March 2018. 

The largest number of complaints concerned failure to pay a worker by the employment agency. The report stated that the hospitality and healthcare sectors attracted the most worker complaints, “totalling nearly 25 per cent” of all complaints. 

EAS, which is part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), said the increase was likely caused by workers’ increased awareness of their rights, thanks to a combination of its own awareness campaigns and wider media attention. 

BEIS has been contacted for further details on the figures, but had not responded at the time of publication. 

Paul Holcroft, Croner’s associate director, agreed that “increasing press coverage regarding worker rights” was helping people become more aware of what they were entitled to.

“Additionally, for those who do not understand the complexities of areas such as minimum wages, more workers are becoming aware of their right to make complaints directly to regulatory and compliance bodies who will then carry out their own review in order to confirm whether worker rights are being adhered to,” he said. “This will contribute towards an increase in complaints.”

Neil Carberry, CEO of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), told People Management he was unsurprised that complaints rose, but added these represented only a small proportion of recruitment industry activity. 

“We need to view the rising complaints in the context of an industry that’s placing a million people in work,” Carberry said. “It is easier for those having experiences to raise concerns even though this is a small percentage. It is absolutely good news if poor treatment is reported, whether it is to us or the EAS.”

Meanwhile, Hannah Reed, TUC’s senior employment rights officer, told People Managementlast year’s publication of the Taylor review likely raised awareness of agency worker mistreatment. 

“Agency workers are often treated like second-class citizens and miss out on their basic workers’ rights,” Reed said.

EAS has a number of powers to tackle non-compliant businesses and employment agencies. In the most extreme cases, it can pursue criminal prosecution and, if successful, courts can then impose unlimited fines. 

EAS can also ban individuals from running an employment agency for a maximum of 10 years. 

Separate recent research from peer-to-peer recruitment recommendation platform AnyGood? found that trust in recruitment agencies was waning. 

More than half (52 per cent) of the 1,000 jobseekers and employers who responded to the survey felt they were not “dealt with honestly” when they had used a recruitment agency over the past year. The majority (90 per cent) said they did not trust recruitment agencies to make sure the job was “right” for them. 

Juliet Eccleston, founder of AnyGood?, warned that recruitment is an “industry ripe for disruption”. 

“Let’s be clear – there are undoubtedly good, honest recruitment firms out there, but it is also apparent that trust in the recruitment sector as a whole is at an all-time low,” Eccleston said. “What we have today is an under-regulated, unlicensed, third-party intermediary with levels of service that simply would not be tolerated in any other sector.”

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