UK Bill to stamp out unpaid trial shifts during hiring process UK Bill to stamp out unpaid trial shifts during hiring process

UK Bill to stamp out unpaid trial shifts during hiring process
28 Mar 2018

A Private Members’ Bill is aiming to stamp out unpaid trial shifts during the recruitment process by requiring UK employers to pay the national minimum wage to candidates for any actual work that they do.

The Unpaid Trial Work Periods (Prohibition) Bill was submitted to parliament by Scottish National Party MP Stewart McDonald following a petition on the subject. It was launched against two Glaswegian cafes that required staff to work a 40-hour unpaid trial before deciding whether to offer them candidates a job. The petition gained more than 41,000 signatures.

As well as paying job applicants for their labour, the new Bill would also require employers to tell prospective employees how long any trial period would last, provide feedback after the shift and let candidates know what arrangements will be made to notify them of the outcome.

Any failure to do so would be an offence under section 31(1) of the National Minimum Wage Act, and could lead to the government publicly ‘naming and shaming’ non-compliant organisations in a similar way to those that underpay staff. Decisions will hinge on whether a trial shift operates exclusively as a genuine part of the recruitment process in order to assess skills while not constituting 'work'.

The Unite union has reported a six-fold increase in complaints about unpaid trial shifts since 2015, jumping from two or three a week then to between 15 and 20 now.

Bryan Simpson, Unite Scotland's hospitality sector organiser, told People Management: “The number one complaint is the disingenuous nature of these shifts, where people believe they are getting a job at the end but don’t. Another is the length of the shift, where people are promised three or four hours of work that turns into an eight or 10-hour shift.”

There was also evidence that some organisations were employing staff on a nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday basis before “just renewing staff at the end of the week”. “This is nothing to do with trying them out for the job – it’s just to keep staff costs as low as possible,” Simpson added.

But he questioned the effectiveness of using only civil measures under the Bill as a means of enforcing the law.

"The minimum wage has been in place for 21 years, but we still saw 190 companies recently shamed by the government for underpaying their staff," he pointed out.

Chris McCollough, chief executive and co-founder of Rotageek, called on employers to start considering alternative methods of testing job candidates for suitability. "If businesses still feel these trial shifts are integral to the hiring process, they must view the associated price tag as part of the cost of recruitment,” he said. “This is work, not a favour."

 Emma Woollacott

Emma Woollacott is a freelance business journalist. Her work has appeared in a wide range of publications, including the Guardian, the Times, Forbes and the BBC.

A Private Members’ Bill is aiming to stamp out unpaid trial shifts during the recruitment process by requiring UK employers to pay the national minimum wage to candidates for any actual work that they do.

The Unpaid Trial Work Periods (Prohibition) Bill was submitted to parliament by Scottish National Party MP Stewart McDonald following a petition on the subject. It was launched against two Glaswegian cafes that required staff to work a 40-hour unpaid trial before deciding whether to offer them candidates a job. The petition gained more than 41,000 signatures.

As well as paying job applicants for their labour, the new Bill would also require employers to tell prospective employees how long any trial period would last, provide feedback after the shift and let candidates know what arrangements will be made to notify them of the outcome.

Any failure to do so would be an offence under section 31(1) of the National Minimum Wage Act, and could lead to the government publicly ‘naming and shaming’ non-compliant organisations in a similar way to those that underpay staff. Decisions will hinge on whether a trial shift operates exclusively as a genuine part of the recruitment process in order to assess skills while not constituting 'work'.

The Unite union has reported a six-fold increase in complaints about unpaid trial shifts since 2015, jumping from two or three a week then to between 15 and 20 now.

Bryan Simpson, Unite Scotland's hospitality sector organiser, told People Management: “The number one complaint is the disingenuous nature of these shifts, where people believe they are getting a job at the end but don’t. Another is the length of the shift, where people are promised three or four hours of work that turns into an eight or 10-hour shift.”

There was also evidence that some organisations were employing staff on a nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday basis before “just renewing staff at the end of the week”. “This is nothing to do with trying them out for the job – it’s just to keep staff costs as low as possible,” Simpson added.

But he questioned the effectiveness of using only civil measures under the Bill as a means of enforcing the law.

"The minimum wage has been in place for 21 years, but we still saw 190 companies recently shamed by the government for underpaying their staff," he pointed out.

Chris McCollough, chief executive and co-founder of Rotageek, called on employers to start considering alternative methods of testing job candidates for suitability. "If businesses still feel these trial shifts are integral to the hiring process, they must view the associated price tag as part of the cost of recruitment,” he said. “This is work, not a favour."

 Emma Woollacott

Emma Woollacott is a freelance business journalist. Her work has appeared in a wide range of publications, including the Guardian, the Times, Forbes and the BBC.

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