The government has announced that the Agency Conduct Regulations 2003 - and other rules governing the £22bn recruitment sector - should be replaced with new legislation which is easier to understand.
Opening an eagerly-awaited consultation, employment relations minister Jo Swinson said the new, streamlined legislation should be introduced instead of the “outdated and complicated” rules currently in place.
The new framework should have four objectives: to restrict most recruiters from charging for finding work; to be clear on who must pay temporary workers; to ensure contracts do not “hinder” workers (when they want to move from temp to perm) and to ensure their rights are known.
According to the consultation document, the broad intention of replacing both the Agency Conduct rules and the Employment Agencies Act (1973) with fresh provisions is to make legislation for the recruitment sector “easier for businesses and individuals to understand.”
The proposal, which affected parties have 12 weeks to comment on, seems to build on last year’s Beacroft Report which suggested that only a core set of regulations should be kept, while the remainder should be made non-statutory for enforcement by an industry body.
In line with this approach, the consultation seeks views on “when it is appropriate for the government to impose rules on the recruitment sector, and when it is more appropriate for the sector and marketplace to decide the rule for themselves.”
The second area invited for comments from job-seekers and agents alike is similar – “whether individual enforcement would be more effective than the current government enforcement regime.”
However, heading off fears that the recruitment sector could emerge almost lawless, business department officials say that “complete deregulation of the recruitment sector is not considered to be viable or desirable.”
Moreover, the government recognises that “any reforms that are made need to ensure that the sector continues to operate efficiently and provide a reliable and trustworthy service to businesses and people seeking work.”
Such statements will likely reassure recruitment bodies whose initial response to the consultation seems to suggest a fix may not be needed for a sector that isn’t broken.
The Association of Recruitment Consultancies said: “Whilst it may be appropriate to change some rules to ensure that any current unfairness is ruled out, the current rules do underpin and promote professionalism within the industry.
"Since 2003, when the regulations were introduced, professionalism has increased and statistics show that the number of successful complaints have steadily decreased to a very low level…
"Many agencies believe that the rules also mirror good commercial practice. They certainly help to keep cowboy operators, who can damage the reputation of the industry as a whole, at bay."
ARC chairman, Adrian Marlowe, cautioned that whatever their hue, the new rules "must continue to support good standards within the industry, and also ensure that the outcome avoids unfairness which favours larger businesses over small and medium-sized enterprises."