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Am I in scope or not? Nope, no idea…

Am I in scope or not? Nope, no idea…

I‘m spending quite a lot of time these days sitting on the train between home and work. It’s not enough time to do the Times crossword, nor to dig out the laptop and do half a day’s work. Even if it were the “aircraft-style seating” is exactly that, too cramped to allow you to do anything apart from sit and stare out of the window.

Doing that, you can’t help but notice the huge amount of hardware that is spread around the edges of our railway system. There are boxes of all sizes, some with arrays of cabling, some seemingly freestanding. There are odd little plaques on station platforms next to the track with sliders on that serve no obvious purpose. Some boxes are labelled but many are not. And all this on top of all the signals and points and speed limit signs and so on. you expect to see anyway.

And all this complexity so you can get on a train, be moved though a series of connections and arrive within two feet of where you got off yesterday. In other words, that complex infrastructure doesn’t impact on you in the slightest; you can get to where you’re going without having to think about it at all.

So what a shame that same approach doesn’t apply to legislation

I’ve been looking at two different set of documents recently, the clarification of the Agency Workers Regulations and some of the material around the latest position on ICTs. These are complex subjects, admittedly, but in essence the aim of the documentation is to allow you to determine to what extent the relevant legislation affects you personally. And I think both have failed in that aim.

The AWR guidance, apart from containing more typos and grammatical errors than I’ve seen in a hundred other HMG papers combined, is bafflingly opaque on perhaps its most fundamental question: am I as a freelance with my own company in scope of these regulations or not? Nope, no idea…

The reason, apparently, is because the authors want to be able to exclude artificial avoidance measures taken by the unscrupulous. They do this by including lots of fuzzy wording that’s open to interpretation. So to pursue the railway analogy, the points may be set to take you to Wales, but you may still end up in Cornwall. Why, nobody knows.

It’s the same with ICTs. The criteria are clearly stated: for example, work here for up to 12 months and you have to be paid £24,000 a year in salary. Except they haven’t defined “salary”, they haven’t defined what allowances go to make up that salary and some of their attempted clarifications are actually mutually exclusive.

Now these documents have been written by clever, educated people who have a solid grasp of the matter in hand. You have to conclude that the ambiguities in the documents are deliberate. You may accept that this is to minimise the risk of avoidance of the rules, but I’m afraid I don’t. As I said to my previous MP when debating the Arctic case, the best way to avoid people breaking the rules is the make the rules binary. You can’t really apply uncertainty theory to a set of points and expect to end up on the right track.

All in all, it’s a hell of a way to run a railway.

About the author: Alan Watts

Alan has worked in IT for most of the last 35 years, and first went freelance in 1996. He has been a PCG member from its start and has been spreading the message that freelancing is a professional career choice for many years. Alan also runs Malvolio’s Blog, a personal but highly informative take on the life of the modern freelance.

Alan Watts, Principal Consultant, LPW Computer Services

© 2011 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited

Image: Fishers of people by LivingOS

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