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Sourcing temporary staff for the Christmas rush

Christmas can be the busiest time of year for many sectors, particularly in retail and services. Organisations usually cope with the seasonal rush by drafting in the help of temporary workers - and for large employers this might mean thousands of new people. What are the options available to them in how they respond to surges in demand?

For many the most straightforward route might be to employ agency workers. A survey on employment trends from the CBI, however, recently reported that the Agency Workers Regulations (AWR) are imposing direct additional costs and extra administrative burdens on firms. The reports says this is despite the 12-week qualification period before workers are entitled to equal working and employment conditions. As a result, some firms have been looking for alternative resourcing strategies.

Around a third have turned to fixed-term contracts and more than a quarter are sidestepping the issue by using the Swedish Derogation Model. This is where agencies pay workers between assignments, effectively becoming their permanent employers in the process. A smaller number have tried increasing overtime for existing staff, using more self-employed people (who are not affected by the AWR), and even increasing their permanent staff intake.

Zero-hours contracts are also becoming increasingly popular as they give businesses a huge amount of flexibility about when and how they hire workers without affording the same entitlements conveyed under the AWR. It's important for employers to remember that in a genuine zero-hours contract this flexibility is a two-way street. Zero-hours workers have to be able to refuse work offers if it suits them without comeback from the employer. If this isn't a feature of the arrangement, it could be argued that a 'mutuality of obligation' exists between the parties, which would confer employment status on the workers along with the associated rights and benefits. Employers need to be fully aware of their responsibilities if they decide to use zero-hours contracts and set out their terms clearly.

They can find comprehensive guidance on flexible working practices in the Advisory booklet - Flexible working and work-life balance and associated training courses on Contracts and terms and conditions. Visit the Acas training and business solutions area for more information.

Employers can also get free impartial advice on any issues relating to employment contracts by calling the Acas Helpline on 0300 123 1100.

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