Memorandum from the Business Services
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