In the media || Few clear answers for recruiters' coronavirus questions

Authored By Shortlist (Business)

This article was originally published by Shortlist and has been reproduced with permission

How to manage workers in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is now the most pressing concern for many on-hire and host employers, but there are very few straightforward answers, says APSCo Australia MD Lesley Horsburgh.

The biggest topic APSCo's advice hotline is fielding calls about centres around what happens when on-hired workers or employees are directed to self-isolate at home, whether they should be paid, and if so, what sort of entitlement it is, Horsburgh tells Shortlist.

In many cases, however, organisations need to seek independent legal advice tailored to their policies and structure, she says.

"It's all very grey – we're in an unprecedented situation. There is no one point where we can give everybody the answers, and everybody is finding the same thing."

Managing contingent workers is obviously very concerning for the on-hire industry because, "if contractors are sent home, there is effectively no cash flow there and no revenue... and the recruitment company will obviously not have the cash flow to pay these contractors".

At the same time, employers are facing external pressure to pay all workers who are self-isolating, and unions are publicly shaming those that don't.

Meanwhile with working from home now directed or encouraged by many workplaces, employers are questioning whether they're set up for this on a large scale, with clear policies and procedures often lacking, and uncertainty around conducting safety audits.

Recruiters are asking, for example, if they are required to issue separate contracts for work-from-home employees, and/or if contracts should only cover set periods of working from home, says Horsburgh.

"People are looking for some guidance on how to normalise the working from home situation and make it productive," she adds.

One upside of the current situation is that business leaders are looking more closely at their structures and how they operate, and "what they can adopt as a long-term strategy, as a new way of working", she says.

"That's a positive I guess that we can latch onto."

APSCo's 2020 priorities

Meanwhile, Horsburgh, who joined as APSCo MD in November last year after long-term MD Julie Mills stepped down, says the association's advice line is "one of the key areas where members find most value, so we'll be working to strengthen that this year".

In a Shortlist interview before the coronavirus situation escalated, she said other key priorities discussed at APSCo's most recent board meeting centre around programs and initiatives relating to professional development.

"We're hearing lots of noise from members around their need to get across several aspects of everything that's driving change in the industry right now: technology, compliance... and any legislative changes occurring."

Another priority is to build better connections with APSCo's UK membership, to help businesses in that region establish a presence in Australia, Horsburgh says.

"We're looking at how we can equip those businesses to be ready and react to the market, and inform them about who's who in the market".

On more local issues, such as broader industrial threats to the on-hire sector, Horsburgh says hopes APSCo can work more closely with RCSA to "have a collective voice where appropriate", noting "that's important for the maturity of our industry".

And she's keen to establish more robust criteria for APSCo awards, as well as improve communication with clients – "a neglected area from an association point of view".

"We need to look at what clients understand about being members of an industry association. Why is it important, and what do candidates understand [about it]?"

APSCo Australia has also launched a podcast featuring interviews with industry personalities.