Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Recruitment and Employment Confederation


  The REC is the trade association for the recruitment and staffing industry in the UK. It has some 6,000 corporate members, representing over 50 per cent of the recruitment industry in the UK. Its members range from small independent businesses to multi-national organisations. The REC operates in virtually all aspects of the employment market except theatrical and entertainment. The REC has a regional structure and a number of specialist interest sections within its membership. Feedback from the industry informs this response.


  The REC believes that it is important in creating employment prospects to challenge age discrimination. By 2010 almost 40 per cent of the labour force will be over 45, whilst 16-24 year olds will make up only 17 per cent of the workforce. Appendix A shows the efforts that some agencies have taken to promote good practice in avoiding age discrimination in practice.

  The recruitment industry is uniquely placed to challenge discriminatory practices of all forms including age discrimination, as it work constructively with employers and job seekers alike. It is a gateway for employment and in 1999-2000 found permanent employment for 500,000 job seekers. In addition in any given week there are over a million temporary workers on agency books.

  The REC sets standards for the recruitment industry and has a Code of Good Recruitment Practice by which its members agree to operate. The REC monitors practise against the standards and may discipline or expel members who do not conform to the Code and associated legislation. Part of the Code is that

    "All members will ensure that all staff are aware of and comply with... relevant legislation and statutory codes including provisions relating to equal opportunities".

  In addition the REC has some 8,000 individual members who work in agencies representing owners, directors, managers, and consultants. The REC provides two qualifications, the Foundation Vocational Award (endorsed by the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance), and the Certificate in Recruitment and Practice run in association with the AEB. On both courses good practice in the avoidance of age discrimination is taught.

  Recently Margaret Hodge MP, Minister for Employment and Equal Opportunities made the first Age Diversity in Recruitment Awards of Excellence to recruitment agencies. In addition the REC works closely with the Third Age Employment Network and is offering a joint award in some regions.


In what ways and to what extent are older workers treated less favourably than younger workers as a result of their age?

  In an industry survey agencies believed that some employers did discriminate on age some of the time. The examples given were generalisations, such as employers believed that older workers were more likely to have time off sick, and were reluctant to be retrained. There is no evidence to support either view. Some cited discrimination towards younger workers as employers tried to mask age discrimination by stating that candidates over 40 were "too experienced" for their positions.

What benefits does promoting age diversity in the workplace offer to employers and employees?

  Promoting age diversity removes traditional barriers to obtaining employment and opens up the job market for the benefit of employers and job seekers alike. As the workforce ages, and as traditional career paths change the job market should be as flexible as possible to enable returners to work, career changers, the unemployed etc to fully utilise their skills and develop their potential.

  The recruitment industry invests significant time and money in re-skilling and upskilling its temporary workers and believes that older workers are a valuable source of experience, for which there should be no artificial barriers to finding employment.

  In particular, educating employers re age discrimination could help in easing skills shortages in such areas as IT work, where IT employers have been reluctant to engage older workers.

In what circumstances (if any) is the use of age as a criterion for the recruitment and retention of employees justified?

  There are only limited circumstances in which the use of age as a criterion for recruitment and retention of employees is justified. The most obvious being for health and safety reasons. There may be valid reasons for limiting some job opportunities to deny the very young or people of post statutory retirement age from applying to some positions eg a lower age limit where there is a lengthy training programme for positions such as vets, doctors, pilots etc.

  It might be appropriate to develop a "Genuine Occupational Qualification" exemption in relation to age, which would be similarly stringent as those that exist for race and sex discrimination.

How effective is the Government's Code of Practice in promoting age diversity in the workplace?

  Wherever possible the REC believes in a voluntary approach to solving problems in the workplace and in the employment arena. Small businesses are already inundated and overwhelmed by regulation. The CBI estimates that new employment rights since 1997 will have cost businesses some £12.3 billion to implement. Whilst the REC believes that the Code is a valuable and much needed source of guidance many employers had not heard of the Code, or only had a vague idea as to its contents. A wider marketing and distribution of the Code may go some way to resolving some of the problems.

In what ways do other Government policies such as New Deal help or hinder older workers, especially unemployed job seekers?

  It was felt that the Government should set an example by removing any age limits (either upper or lower) from the New Deal initiative. Many felt that New Deal did enable older workers to find employment but only at low pay rates, so their years of experience were still not taken into account properly in the job market.

  From speaking to members dealing with all government departments evidence suggests that there are often artificial limits imposed for government initiatives. Especially access to government funded training schemes, which seem to be aimed disproportionately at the young. It is recommended that government departments review all of their requirements for contracts, access to government funding etc. Also there are age limits in some departments that should be reviewed eg maximum of 70 for agency doctors.

Is there a case for anti-discrimination legislation, and if so, what provisions should it include?

  The REC strongly believes in a voluntary approach to this issue. However if the Government were minded to simplify the existing legislation and consolidate the various Acts relating to discrimination in the field of employment, then the majority of our members could support the inclusion of age discrimination in such a consolidation.

  As a very minimum it could make age as a criterion for recruitment illegal (unless there is a GOQ), and ban age information in advertisements, and on c.v.'s and application forms.


  The REC as the trade association for the recruitment industry is opposed to age discrimination, has developed a Code of Conduct for its members, which opposed age discrimination and works actively to promote good practice.

  There are plenty of good examples in the recruitment sector where employers' attitudes are challenged and there is some evidence that a voluntary approach is working.

  The REC would support age discrimination legislation if there were sufficient evidence to show that it was necessary and it was in the format of a consolidated Act on discrimination.

  The REC would be delighted to give oral evidence to the Committee if this was thought to be helpful.

Recruitment and Employment Confederation

January 2001

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