PCG and REC put contractors on party conference agenda

Tuesday 24 September 2013

A spotlight has been thrown on freelancers and contractors during party conference season thanks to the joint efforts of Professional Contractors’ Group (PCG) and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC).

The two bodies have been working together on events to highlight the valuable contribution that self-employed professionals make to Britain’s economy, as well as advocating measures to protect the flexible workforce which helps to make the UK competitive on the world stage. Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne was in attendance last night (September 23rd) as the organisations joined in a discussion on the changing face of work around the country to coincide with the Labour party conference.

It was opened by Doug Henderson, a former Labour MP representing Newcastle upon Tyne North, who spoke on behalf of PCG to emphasise the importance of freelance talent in giving small businesses a much-needed boost. He explained that changes in the UK labour market, especially the rise of contracting in highly sought technical disciplines such as energy and IT, has allowed smaller firms to access the advanced skills and knowledge that they need without the cost and commitment of taking on new staff.

In turn, REC’s Kevin Green concluded the event by arguing for the protection of the UK’s vital flexible labour market. Notably, he offered a stark warning to the shadow minister: some of the sentiments recently heard from the opposition, which have included staunch opposition to zero-hours contracts and a number of other measures, could breed legislation with long-lasting negative consequences for the country’s economy as a whole.

Interestingly, Age UK’s Angela Kitching also mentioned the importance of flexible working for those who need to juggle their professional lives with different personal commitments, such as caring for loved ones, and supporting older workers who do not wish to retire. At an earlier event on September 16th in Glasgow during the Lib Dem conference, speakers also drew attention to how independent working can benefit women.

Simon McVicker, PCG director of policy and public affairs, said that in 2011 nearly four out of ten freelancers were female and more than one in eight were working mothers. He added that the number of freelance mothers in the UK has risen by a quarter since 2008, indicating that flexible working can be a positive move for those looking to balance their work and family lives.

PCG reports that Mr McVicker argued policymakers across the whole of Europe need to recognise the many benefits of freelancing as a career choice.

“Politically, with a General Election two years away and following the recent BIS Select Committee report ‘Women in the Workplace’, the political and media agenda is highlighting employment issues affecting women on a daily basis. Women in freelancing are a key part of this agenda that cannot be ignored,” he added.

Regarding the controversy over zero-hours contracts, REC’s Tom Hadley said that bad practice in cases where the system had been abused does not mean every form of flexible working is necessarily bad. Instead, the government should focus on rooting out malpractice while continuing to promote freelancing and independent working as much as possible.

By Victoria McDonnell

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