What rights do agency workers have?

If you are an agency worker, then the fact that you aren’t immediately eligible for statutory redundancy pay - even if you’ve been placed with a firm for more than two years - may be causing you some concern. However, even though you are employed by an agency, you still have rights and it’s important to understand these to ensure you get the treatment you deserve.

The government recently launched a £1 million campaign to help agency workers know their rights, and to ensure agencies follow the rules.

Business minister, Pat McFadden, has warned agencies not to use the recession as an excuse to deny people their employment rights. "Employment agencies need to make sure they play by the rules and don't short-change their staff,” she said.

While most employment agencies act within the law, Brendan Barber, general secretary at the TUC, warns: “Some agency workers miss out on the most basic employment rights, and are among the most vulnerable in the whole workforce.”

What is an agency worker?

Agency workers are often referred to as ‘temps’ because the jobs they do are temporary and they often move from company to company. A ‘temping’ position can last just one day or could stretch to months or even years.

Bear in mind the difference between agencies that arrange temporary work for you, and recruitment consultants or employment agencies. The latter find you fixed-term or permanent work with an employer; therefore, it is the company in question that hires you not the agency.

If you were hired through an employment agency then you have different rights to temporary agency workers.

Temporary agency workers have a contract of employment with the agency, rather than the firms they work for. The firms pay your agency a fee for the work you do, but it is the agency that pays your wages.

An agency is not allowed to charge you for finding work, and must also pay you regardless of whether it collects the fee from the firm you have been placed with.

Wages, holiday and redundancy

Agency workers, like other employees, should be paid at least the national minimum wage:

Workers aged between 16-17: £3.53 an hour
Workers aged between 18-21: £4.77
Workers aged 22 and over: £5.73 an hour

However, from October 2009, the national minimum wage bands will increase:

Workers aged between 16-17: £3.57 an hour
Workers aged between 18-21: £4.83 an hour
Workers aged 22 and over: £5.80 an hour

From Octobr 2010, all workers aged 21 will receive the full adult national minimum wage.

You also have the right to be paid for all the work you do, and are fully entitled to paid holiday, rest breaks and limits on working time.

The basic holiday rights afforded to all workers in the UK are:

* A minimum of 4.8 weeks times your usual working week. This will increase to 5.6 weeks from 1 April 2009

* Those working part-time are entitled to the same level of holiday pro rata

* You start building up holiday as soon as you start work

* You get paid your normal pay for your holiday

* Bank and public holidays can be included in your minimum entitlement

Agency workers have the same rights to statutory sick pay, and maternity or paternity pay. However, unlike employees, they are not legally entitled to maternity or paternity leave.

And unfortunately, temporary agency workers are not generally entitled to redundancy pay or to claim unfair dismissal.

Your other rights

* Your agency must give you full details of any new job you agree to undertake within three days of it being offered to you

* Your agency can’t withhold your wages even if you don’t produce a signed timesheet, although it is permitted to check you worked the hours claimed

* You are allowed to register with multiple agencies

For more advice about your employment rights as an agency worker, contact The Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate (0845 955 5105), which is part of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. It is responsible for enforcing the legislation that governs the private recruitment industry.

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