Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Sep-Oct 2020 : COPING READ ONLINE

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Agency staff

May 20 2009
Where do they come from and what are they for? "Sorry mate, I'm agency." If you're living in a hostel, you are probably used to hearing this or something similar regularly. Many hostels are full of agency staff. Questions you could be asking yourself are: what are agency staff? Why are they here? And why do they keep telling me they don't know or can't do anything? Agency staff are temporary workers who the hostel calls in when they need some extra people around. This could be for one day, one week or nine months. They usually have a background in hostel work or a desire to do it, but, as with everything else, this depends on which agency sent them and how rigorous their selection procedure is. Some agencies have a lengthy recruitment process involving two-hour interviews, obstacle courses and those blobs of ink on cards. Others just phone one of their mates whose got a day off from mini-cabbing when they need to cover a shift. A common misconception some residents have is that agency staff are voluntary. This idea may even be encouraged by some less scrupulous agency workers, but couldn't be further from the truth. Cynics might even say 'mercenary' would be more accurate. Agency staff definitely get paid. So that's probably why they're there, but why is the hostel paying them to work when they have perfectly good staff of their own? The most common reason is sickness. Hostels must have a certain number of staff on duty, so that when someone calls in sick at short notice, they have to be replaced. This may be why you notice more agency workers around when it's sunny, or Christmas or during the school holidays. And what if they say they don't know? They may well be idiots and uninterested, or they may have years of experience - enough experience to know that sometimes the smartest thing to do when working in a hostel is pretend you don't know anything. If a worker is refusing to do simple tasks, it may be because it's one of their first shifts and they want to be asked back; they could be worried that if they breach an obscure policy dear to the manager's heart by giving a resident a pen or letting them make a personal call from the office phone, this won't happen. Many agency workers live by the rule "if you don't do anything, you won't do anything wrong." Or they might genuinely not know the rules and procedures in your hostel as these can vary enormously from place to place. Most hostels will tell you all agency staff receive a full induction before starting work, but this "full induction" can be anything from two days shadowing a permanent member of staff, to being given a couple of hours to read a folder or even sometimes being chucked a set of keys and told "good luck." They will then often be given the job with the most resident contact, while any permanent staff on duty update their "care plans" in the back office. The real winners in all this are the agencies who get a substantial cut (sometimes a third) of all their workers' wages for essentially answering one phone call, looking at a list and then making a few more calls.
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