The outcome of the Agency Workers Directive hangs on the image of the recruitment industry in Europe. The last issue of Recruiter focused again on the European Commission's persistent attempts to restrict the flexibility of the UK temporary staff market ('Industry fears EU changes will affect agency workers', 4 May).
The Agency Workers Directive, if introduced in its current draft, would give temporary workers the same rights as permanent staff after only six weeks of an assignment.
This is a problem on two levels. First, in markets with major skills shortages, temps are paid significantly more than permanent staff. Market forces have created these differences and the EU meddles with those markets at its peril. Second, unlike much of Europe, the UK doesn't have collective bargaining, so establishing what a permanent equivalent employee might earn would be very difficult.
Lobbying by industry bodies has meant the UK government has fought the recruitment industry's corner. But there is a risk this could change and the government has given a commitment to the trade unions that it will 'find a solution'.
I believe a major factor behind the risk of potentially damaging legislation from Brussels is the reputation of the UK recruitment industry. Many in the European Parliament have little understanding of the UK market. We urgently need to project a realistic, more positive image to Europe.
There are three ways to achieve this. First, by lobbying. I recently joined a lobbying trip with the REC to Brussels and was impressed by the way this is done. The only thing our industry lacks in this respect is meaningful statistics - so while it seems that temp work improves employability, I cannot prove it.
Second, we must improve how we are perceived and raise the bar for the industry. Complying with widely recognised professional standards would be a big step forward.
And finally, we must show that our industry can be a force for good. Europe is keen to promote employment and social inclusion. Our government too has set some ambitious targets in terms of getting those excluded from employment into work. Our industry is in a unique position to spread best practice in terms of diversity in employment.
Later this year, the REC will launch a diversity pledge in partnership with the Department of Work and Pensions and endorsed by numerous diversity organisations. It will be the first diversity pledge to apply right across the public and private UK recruitment industries and an excellent way to build credibility with both the government and Brussels.
CONTRIBUTOR: Ian Wolter, managing director, Eden Brown RECRUITER