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Temporary workers - Josef Said

Abuse by some companies making use of cleaning services, hospitality personnel and manual workers is very real; some employees have to contend with long hours, low pay and an erosion of rights.

However exploitation of workers is now permeating into office jobsand a number of businesses aremaking use of agencies to try to dodge their responsibilities.

A company has a number of choices when it comes to hiring temporary workers; one option is to engage an agency to meet the demands of a short-term increase in workload.

Many organisations find this a convenient service, given the ability an agency has to mobilise, select and engage quality talent within a short time frame.

Most employers operate within the law and are respectful of temporary workers. One of our clients went through a laborious process to ensure that equal work is equally compensated. This was done out of principle. Currently, Maltese law puts the onus on the temporary agency to ensure equal pay, rather than the employer.

The provision of temporary workers goes smoothly when companies operate within the word and spirit of the law, which occurs in the vast majority of cases. However, some organisations engage employment agencies specifically to shift their obligations onto the agency.

Companies use dubious practices to skirt the law. One technique was to write slightly different job descriptions in order to avoid the principle of ‘equal pay for equal wage’

We have come across situations where companies were not satisfied with the fact that we could identify workers who would deliver windfall revenues – they wanted additional cost savings from the wages paid to the temporary workers as well.

What is even more worrying is that these companies use dubious practices to skirt the law. One technique was to write slightly different job descriptions in order to avoid the principle of “equal pay for equal wage”, when in actual fact, temporary workers and permanent workers were doing the same job.

At Konnekt, we take our legal and moral responsibilities to temporary workers very seriously. The burden of upholding equal pay may fall on the temporary agency, but it is sometimes very difficult to carry out due diligence. This is especially true when the client makes an effort to withhold or obfuscate information on comparative wages, or tells its temporary workers that it is paying the right wages, but that the agency that is pocketing the difference.

To address this abuse, a change in the law is needed, to make both the agency and the company jointly liable for ensuring equal wages.

This sharing of responsibilities is no new concept in employment legislation. In the Transfer of Undertakings regulations, most of the responsibilities towards employees rest on both the transferor as well as on the transferee.

Beyond this much-needed legal change, we hope that companies engaging in such practices understand that Malta is close-knit and such short-term tactics hurt permanent recruitment.  Exclusively focusing on the bottom line, and abusing a loophole in the current regulations to do so, is not the way to do business, let alone win and retain staff.

I also expect external consultants to be more thorough in the advice they dish out, and to act as catalysts to increase standards, rather than helping their clients circumvent the law.

Ultimately, doing what is right should trump money anytime.

Josef Said is a director of a recruitment agency.

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