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AWR – instead of clarity we get muddle and greyness

AWR – instead of clarity we get muddle and greyness

Regular readers – both of them – will have learned by now that if someone ever sets up an Appreciation Society for the benefit of Saint Vince of Cable I am unlikely to be in the queue for tickets. His tenure as Business Secretary has been littered with decisions that seem almost deliberately intended to make the contractor’s life even more difficult than it already is. I doubt he does it on purpose, so we have to conclude that he simply doesn’t think things through properly. Or perhaps he doesn’t pay attention to the outcomes. Well, hey, he is a politician, I suppose.

Consider the Agency Workers Regulations, which are looming ever larger on the horizon. The intent of the original EU-derived ruling was to ensure that low level temporary workers – people who aren’t really in the best place to fight their own corner – are protected from being denied basic rights that are taken for granted by permanent employees; little things like holidays and sick leave and access to the canteen. It has to be said, that is an entirely reasonable and even laudable aim.

As is the way of such legislation, the EU sets the objective and leaves it to the member countries to enact as best they can. So guess what happens when St Vince’s department get hold of it?

Firstly there is a consultation period. They produce a straw man proposal and invite interested parties to comment on it, note ambiguities and errors and suggest any obvious improvements. They consider the responses, redraft the straw man into a final document and that become the legislation.

Except for one minor point. They kind of missed the ever-so-slightly critical point about the scope of the legislation.

Like I said, it’s meant to protect vulnerable workers. Now I am many things but I don’t for one minute consider myself to be vulnerable to being downtrodden. Apart from She Who Must Be Obeyed of course, but I volunteered for that one. So why the hell am I potentially in the scope of the AWR?

It seems that DBERR have been gold-plating the requirement. Specifically, rather than draft something aimed at “agency workers” they allowed it to cover any independent worker, including freelance contractors who, as a breed, are probably the least vulnerable workforce in the country.

And what makes me angry (and No 10, who tried to see if it could be redrafted at the eleventh hour) was that very point was made, clearly and explicitly, in the original consultation. They were told the scope is wrong, it’s not meant to apply to this group but only to that one. But when the final draft hits the presses the only exemption is the somewhat mealy-mouthed exclusion of “those genuinely in business” which, as we know all too well, is not a clearly defined anything. They may as well have said “Those who are either taller, or shorter, than six feet. Without shoes”.

So apart from now facing the risk that our contracts are going to get even more tangled as HR and the agencies try to get around the legislation, we lost the chance for a clear chance to define exactly what is meant as a freelance contractor, as opposed to an agency worker. Given the average itinerant fruit picker is unlikely to own his own company, there is at least one simple and very clear separator. This would have greatly aided various other arguments such as who is caught by IR35. But it is not to be; instead of clarity we get muddle and greyness. A bit like St Vince, in fact. Which is something of a pity.

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: Back Yard On New Year’s Day 2011 by Kerry Niemann

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