Skills, Gigs and Zero-Hours Contracts

Neil HartleyHealth & Safety Issues/TrendsLeave a Comment

Skill Shortages in UK

We first covered skills shortages in the UK economy back in January. The challenges facing employers in finding the right skills was highlighted in the Employer Skills Survey 2017, itself based on interviews with over 87,000 employers.

By far the largest survey responses (by number of companies responding and the employment levels in their represented sector) came from Wholesale & Retail and Business Services while the skills shortages reported covered both highly-skilled and low-skilled workers. We highlight this simply to illustrate the generality of the challenge beyond the oft reported shortages in the NHS and Hospitality sector.

Why, with record levels of students entering our universities every year, should we have skill shortages?

Why do we have all-time high levels of self-employment with 1 in 7 of UK workers now self-employed?

What’s with the gig economy and how come 1 in 4 UK workers have a side hustle?

Why are two-thirds of millennials in the workplace expressing a desire to leave and find a new job according to the Deloitte Millennial Survey?

Are we experiencing a breakdown in the traditional order of society or are these changes to be viewed as a natural stage in our economic evolution and to be embraced?

What does all this mean for health and safety?

All are tough to answer and all, bar the last, will have a high degree of opinion and/or hypothesis involved in the answer. While the impact on health and safety is increased complexity in the worker supply chain, the responsibilities and duty of care are already written into law.

Industry and business generally have already seen a massive increase in outsourcing in non-core activities. Continuing skills shortages will add to the amount of work contracted out, some of which may relate to core activities, some to non-core. Regardless of the type of work being done and the status of the worker (self-employed, employed by contractor, working on a zero-hours contract), health and safety law is very clear in requiring the employer to protect all workers without discrepancies between permanent employees and non-permanent workers.

However, an IOSH survey from November 2017 shows that this is not always the case. One finding from the survey was that “one half (53%) [of non-permanent workers] receive a full induction process, including fire exits, compared to two-thirds of their full-time, permanent co-workers”.

The TUC goes even further in suggesting that employers are rarely accepting any responsibility for the health and safety of those on zero-hours contracts, with no risk-assessments on their jobs, PPE or training provided. Again, the law is very clear – those on zero-hours contracts are entitled to the same protections as your employees.

With increased complexity, arising from the need to contract out more work because of skill shortages, comes an increase in worker turnover and the associated challenge of verification. How do you verify that the worker is competent to do the job? Do you mandate a check on qualifications (and insurance) for every job/worker as part of your permit-to-work process? If you don’t have a simple-to-use system for those checks, the temptation will always be there to cut corners on rush jobs.

Then, even where the certificate is presented, how do you verify its authenticity? Producing fake certificates is a major issue right now with a recent high profile case in the Construction industry leading to long jail sentences for the convicted forgers. Without a system to verify authenticity, these fraudulent activities are putting the safety of other workers at risk.

We are in a time of major flux with increased stability a long way off on the horizon, and even then there’s no certainty of a return to a nicely ordered worker supply chain. To see how e-permits can help with your contractor management challenge, you can view our webinar on the topic via the link.

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