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


Memorandum from the Business Services Association

  The Business Services Association represents major, world-class outsourcing companies which operate in the United Kingdom. Its current 18 members turn over around £14 billion annually in the United Kingdom and employ upwards of 400,000 staff. Services provided to clients in the private and public sector include cleaning, catering, building maintenance, grounds maintenance, logistics, reprographic services, mail room services and a variety of IT applications.

  Historically, older workers have been an important part of this sector because of their experience, client knowledge and ability and desire to work shorter, sometimes out-of-office, hours in client premises. (Within the private sector contracts may be renewed over a period of 20 to 30 years and clients appreciate familiar workers providing services under the contract. These will know more about the client and will be more adaptable to the needs of the client from day to day).

  While there is a trend towards more full-time, daytime provision in those areas which used to be characterised by shorter, morning or evening shifts, there remain significant opportunities for older workers. Most of the services provided are suitable to be provided by workers of all ages and the main interest of the client and the service provider is that these are so provided at the best quality level within the constraints of the contract. This means that staff performance is of much greater importance than age. This is the correct criterion.

  Within the sector there are four potential areas of discrimination, direct on indirect.


  Because of the nature of their business, companies in the business services sector employ people over a wide age range. The majority of services are now provided during normal office hours. Early morning and evening shifts, however, remain a major aspect of our business and can accommodate employees who find it easier to work at those times rather than during the day. These shifts frequently appeal more to mothers with young children and older workers who may not wish full-time employment.

  Clearly, other considerations apply in the more technical and high-tech areas of the industry. There it may be the case that older workers do not possess the necessary competencies to undertake the required tasks and so may feel in turn that companies have discriminated indirectly against them. This is an inevitability of the market. Changing practices within the provision of blue-collar services and the introduction of state-of-the-art equipment may also indirectly disadvantage those who find difficulty in operating it. This applies across the spectrum of employment but may have a more pronounced effect in relation to older workers.

  We have not been aware of a major impact from the introduction of the Code of Practice on Age Diversity. It fits well with current and established practice.


  Within this sector, we are aware of little discrimination between older and younger workers on grounds of age. Staff are paid on the basis of their experience and according to the rates agreed under the contract with the client. It is likely, therefore that younger workers will be paid less than older ones performing similar tasks with similar skills. Flexibility is important, both in relation to shift patterns and work skills, and those who are willing to adapt to changing provision processes and able to accommodate changing client needs are rewarded accordingly.

  Indirect discrimination may arise, however, in respect of older workers who do not have the same level of qualifications as younger workers who are paid at a higher rate. This is inevitable and necessary.


  Members of the Association are committed to lifelong learning. Staff are trained and re-skilled throughout their careers. Issues arise in regard to older workers where companies must evaluate the return on investment from training or re-skilling younger workers vis-a"-vis older ones. This is not a straightforward issue because while older employees are more likely to stay longer with an employer, younger workers may be persuaded to do so by promotion and career development. Older workers may also be slower to respond to the need for additional training or multi-skilling.

  A further issue in respect of part-time workers centres round the cost of investment in training against the number of hours worked. Training can take up a disproportionate amount of the working hours of a part-time employee. Where the employee is part-time and older, these considerations become more stark.


  Members of the Association do not normally apply any age barriers within their recruitment processes. They look for the best person for the job. However, this must be viewed in an economic context and those with few remaining years of employment are inevitably less likely to be awarded jobs with a long-term life. On the other hand, because so much of the business within the sector is on short-term (three to five year) contracts, age becomes less of an impediment when recruiting for posts within these contracts. Equally, younger people are less likely to wish a part-time job especially out of normal hours, while older workers frequently prefer this and so are more likely to find employment in these areas:

  There are two other areas in which responses are sought. These are dealt with below.


  The New Deal has not operated with much success within the business services sector. There is little glamour in the work undertaken by service companies and candidates are reluctant to commit themselves to low pay, blue-collar jobs. Those seeking jobs wish higher remuneration and potentially better prospects than may be available within the service environment. In any event, the current skill shortage is so great that most people seeking employment within the sector will have found it without much difficulty if they have a reasonable degree of skill and prior training. Those with no prior training may not wish to undergo the training required by leading companies in this sector.


  We accept that legislation on age discrimination may be required across the labour market. Such legislation should protect workers without placing undue burdens on employers. The European Union recently passed a Directive on Age Discrimination which has to be ratified by the United Kingdom. We hope these principles of protection and light regulation will be observed in its implementation.

Business Services Association

January 2001

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 27 March 2001