Employers opt for temps to run the workplace

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The Independent Online

The demand for temporary staff has reached its highest level since records began and looks set to continue rising, according to Britain's biggest employment agency.

Reed Personnel Services announced yesterday that employers are relying more heavily on temporary rather than permanent staff. Figures for the last three months of 1995 reveal that demand is 22 per cent higher than in the 1989 boom and double that of the first quarter of 1992. "There is a danger that we will get another gap between the 'haves' and 'have- nots' based not on money but on whether or not you have a permanent job," said Alec Reed, founder and executive chairman of Reed Personnel Services, which has 200 branches in the United Kingdom.

Mr Reed fears that the growing number of one-stop workers - whose spells of work tend to be "a year here and a year there, rather than a week here and a week there as in the past" - are being short-changed.

He is calling for provisions to be made to ensure that they receive benefits and support similar to those automatically provided to permanent staff.

"Training, sick pay, holiday pay and access to credit [such as mortgages and credit cards], all need to be available," he said. "Only in this way can the effectiveness and the high quality of the flexible workforce, which is so important to the success of the UK economy, be maintained. If we don't treat temps with respect it could blow up in our faces."

He predicted that the temp's status would soon improve. "I think they will become far more respected over the next 12 months. Temporary work was a new, brash market which companies rushed into in times of recession. Now companies are realising that temps are a valuable tool in running a business."

Demand for temporary staff has risen 25 per cent year-on-year, a 1 per cent rise on the previous quarter's year-on-year percentage increase, according to the Reed Temporary Index.

Charles Handy, author of The Empty Raincoat, said the trend towards short-term contracts was here to stay. "Organisations are in a sense trying to export the risk. As individuals we have to plan our lives on the assumption that we are going to have what I call 'actor's careers'. We all know how actors cope. Those who are successful cope by having two or three strings to their bow to fall back on," he said. Mr Handy encouraged young people to build up a "portfolio of skills" so they are not caught short when employment ends suddenly. "In some ways there is nothing so insecure as a 'secure job'," he said.

John Atkinson, associate director of the Institute for Employment Studies, believes that while there is a long-term shift towards temporary employment it is "much more modest" than employment agencies make out. The cyclical factor must not be ignored. "A lot of the demand for temporary employment will translate itself back into permanent employment when things look a bit clearer," Mr Atkinson said.