Agency workers to get equal rights

20 May 2008

Temps and other agency workers on job placements for more than 12 weeks are to receive the same employment rights as permanent staff.

The government and union leaders have agreed proposals that will give agency workers better employment rights after 12 weeks in a job. The agreement follows six years of debate over how to protect agency workers, with unions claiming many are subject to low pay, long hours and exploitation.

However, the Confederation of British Industry raised concerns that some firms might be deterred from hiring agency staff.

The deal means that many agency workers will now receive at least the basic working and employment conditions that permanent workers are entitled to.

This will include the right to shift premiums, overtime and bonuses equal to those offered to an “equal” permanent member of staff. However, it will not include sick pay, pension payments or occupational social security schemes.

The government plans to turn the proposals into legislation later in 2008 although a similar EU directive on temporary workers’ rights could impact this.

However, effective immediately, agency workers will be entitled to statutory sick pay from their first day at an agency. Previously, this was only the case for workers who had been at an agency for at least three months.

John Hutton, the government’s business secretary, says: "[The proposals] will give people a fair deal at work without putting their jobs at risk or cutting off a valuable route into employment."

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trade Union Congress, said the issue of agency workers had been “crying out for attention for far too long”. She added that the deal will open the door to the much stronger legal protection for agency workers.

There are an estimated 1.4 million agency workers in the UK. Around 50% of agency placements last fewer than 12 weeks, according to the CBI.

John Cridland, deputy director-general of the CBI, says: “Agency work is good for temps and for the firms that use them, and forms a central plank of the flexible labour market that is so important to our country’s prosperity.

"There has been a major risk of damaging legislation coming from Brussels, and the CBI has judged that the government’s proposals represent the least worst outcome available for British business.

“Half of agency assignments will be unaffected as they last less than 12 weeks - protecting businesses’ ability to deal with peaks and troughs in demand and shorter-term staff absences.

“And while pay is covered, occupational benefits that recognise the long-term relationship permanent staff have with an employer, like sick pay and pensions, are rightly excluded.”

Your rights as an agency worker

Agency workers or temps often enjoy more flexibility than permanent staff and are able to move between different jobs with little or no notice.

However, just as agency workers have the flexibility to leave jobs atshort notice, employers also have the flexibility to finish temporarywork without being liable for unfair dismissal or redundancy pay.

Temps are normally considered to be ‘workers’ as opposed to employees or staff. Agency workers are currently entitled to the National Minimum Wage, working time legislation and health and safety and social security provisions.

As an agency worker you have the right for holidays, rest breaks and limits on working time. You are also protected from your employer making unlawful deductions from your wages and you have the right not to be discriminated against under any equality legislation.

However, most agency workers are not currently entitled to the same advantages that permanent employees enjoy.

For example, you may not get the same holiday allowance and while you have the right to maternity or paternity pay, you do not have the right to maternity or paternity leave.

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