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                     EMPLOYMENT AGENCIES

 

WHO DO THE AGENCIES REALLY SERVE?

 

            I have often sought work through UK temping employment agencies, especially warehousing and industrial work. It has to be said that the quality of service from such agents is appalling. There is a reason for this. Such agencies put the interests of the employers before the interests of the employees.  Here are a number of criticisms of such services based on personal experience.

 

                        REGISTRATION

 

            Finding an agency can be a tedious process. Most specialize, so an agency that serves the catering trade wonít have secretarial work on offer, and vice-versa. That is understandable.  The second problem is that most agencies have far more clients than jobs available. This means that registration does not guarantee that the agency will attempt to place you in work. In fact, many agencies like to run up their books to show employers how many workers they have on hire. This means that agencies frequently ad people to their books purely as statistics, with little intention of actually finding work for them.

            The registration process can be intense. You may be expected to attend an interview, just as you would for an employee. You will be expected to submit a full CV, fill in an application form (asking for mostly the same information as you give on the CV). You will be expected to produce your National Insurance Number and in many cases, also your passport. (Even if you live in the UK and never travel abroad, so getting a current passport can prove to be expensive). You will also have to produce bank details, as agencies will usually receive your wages from the employers and pay them into your bank account once they have deducted their percentage.  You may even have to sit a test of your maths and English. 

            It is important to make it clear to the agency what hours you can work, and what distances you are prepared to travel. If you depend on public transport, a job fifteen miles from home where the shifts commence at 6 AM is of no use to you whatsoever. Many companies like such anti-social hours as they impose on staff to either live close to the workplace, or not to go drinking heavily the night before, as they have to get up before dawn to get to work. Agencies happily send staff to work such hours, without extra pay for doing so. Such hours also discriminate against women who are reluctant to walk through streets, industrial estates and even car parks after dark for understandable fears of sexual assault.

            Once registered, you will then be put on the books for the agency. That is when the waiting game begins.

 

                                    THE WAITING GAME

 

            Agencies do not phone you or e-mail you with lots of jobs from the moment you register. In fact, if you found the agency through a job lead from a Job Centre or a newspaper advert, you may find them reluctant to even consider you for that job, which can often be a hook to get t you to register as a client with the agency. By the time your references are processed, and you are accepted a potential employee, the specific job you made contact with the agency over, may have gone.

            Agencies will tell you to wait for them to contact you, and then; leave you waiting indefinitely. The trick is in fact not to wait, but to phone the agency up incessantly so that they realise that you are available for work and keen to be employed (They like you to be desperate and in a need to beg). If you donít contact them, they often just assume that you have found work elsewhere through your own steam. 

            Invariably agencies will offer you work which is utterly unsuitable for you. They will offer you jobs outside of your means to reach without adequate transport, or work that involves shifts which do not suit you, even if you specified the hours you wish to work at your registration interview. 

            Some agencies will tell you to phone back at certain times later in the day or week about a job they expect to have for you. When you phone at the appointed time, no one will know anything about such a job. Sometimes an agency will phone you about a job, and this can even be in the middle of the night. If you are not available for their call, they can get quite resentful. I have had agencies phone me at 11.30 PM on Sunday nights, hoping I will drop everything for a job that starts that Monday morning.  The agencies will often not contact you for weeks or even months, and then expect you to be immediately eager to serve their needs. They will often get very resentful if you have found work elsewhere   when they have not been in touch with you. Many agencies also resent it if you register with more than one agency, though some are undoubtedly in contact with one another too.

           

                                    WORK

 

            Perseverance and patience, and running up your own phone bill will eventually pay off. Using the agency can end up being as demanding as seeking the jobs yourself, as they often leave you to do all the running around for them while they give minimum effort.  However, eventually a call will come through about a job that has manageable hours in a location close enough to your home for you to go there. 

            Be sure at this stage to get as much information as possible. Some agencies are very vague about what time you are to start the job and who you are to report to, and the best directions for traveling to the workplace. I have found that some employees have expected me at different hours than the agencies have given to me. One agent even insisted on taking me to the workplace personally, and then got me lost on the way, leaving me to take the blame for my first (and last) day late arrival.

            I have also gone to firms where they have had no record of the agency sending me that day or any other. In such cases the firm and the agency blame each other for the fact that I end up going home having had a wasted trip.

            In some jobs you may need overalls, fluorescent jackets and safety boots. Some agencies have the employee buy these. Some firms provide them free of charge.

            Be sure to establish whether the job is casual, temporary or permanent. Some agencies will deceive you about this. Also establish quickly how many agencies staff the firmís hire, and how many, if any go on to permanent employment with the firm. Donít be surprised if it is hardly any that are kept on.

            One carrot on a stick offer is the claim that a good employee will son become a regular member of the company staff and kept on permanently. It can happen, but most temping jobs are just that, temporary. They can last for weeks, or even just a few days. It isnít uncommon for a company to hire fifty agency temps at once, and then find that they can get the job done with just ten. The remainder are laid off almost instantly.

            Some firms will hire agency staff on one set of hours, keep them on for a few days and then tell them that as of the next day the hours have changed to more anti-social ones. Such arrangements are not made overnight, and many agencies will keep their potential employees in the dark about such details.

            Employers often treat agency staff like dirt. Agency staff will often get the lousy jobs, while regular staff does virtually nothing to help. An agency staff member who complains about this may be laid off for expressing dissent. The firms will adopt andIf you donít like it, leaveí attitude.  Some may report to the agency that they donít want certain employees hiring again, and the agency will respect that.  While the firm should be entitled to lay off unsuitable employees, they often dismiss good workers who are outspoken enough to stand up for their rights as well.

            Rights! The agency employee has few if any. Being a temp tends to exclude a worker from having union representation, and if there are lay offs in a firm, the agency staffs are the first to go. This can often come without any notice at all, even if the firm has known about it weeks or months before the agency hire is informed, as they finish a shift Ė donít come back tomorrow. Sometimes, if you are really unlucky the firm will let you come in for your shift on the day the are not wanted and then send you home before you clock in. They will swear blind that the agency was supposed to get in touch with you.

            Many firms will expect the agency to tell you everything, and give you no information other than through the agency, who rarely pass messages on or who try to phone you at home when they know that you are at work. I have had that happen many times.  Few agency managers visit the work place to look in on their staff. Some even expect their agency hirelings to take time sheets to the agency office at the close of a shift, even if that is miles from the route the agency staff member might wish to use to go home if such a detour was not called for.

            Many agencies fail to pay wages on time, and this in itself can cause an employee huge problems.

            The worst that can happen is where a firm treats the agency staff so badly that the temporary employee walks out on the job, or makes it clear at close of shift that they are not returning the next day. The agencies invariably expect their employees to stick with a job no matter how bad it gets.  They rarely accept that an employer is in the wrong. They can simply send a fresh employee from their reserve at any time. If you do walk out on a job, the agency may blacklist you and never forward your details to any other employer ever again.

            On the whole, the agency hire staffís lot is not a happy one. Jobs can be so casual that you can be hired for a day, laid off for three months and then requested back for the same firm. I have had jobs where I have had had to phone the agency each night to find out of the firm wants me back the next day because the firm refuse to negotiate my hours directly with me.  In 2004 more than half of my phone bill was from calls made to agencies that I had some employment issues with. Until agencies serve the interests of their employees as much as the needs of the employers the situation will not improve.

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