New Rights for Agency Workers

In recent years there have been several failed attempts by the European Union Council of Ministers to agree on proposals to improve the employment rights of agency workers. In December 2007, the Agency Workers Directive (AWD), giving temporary workers equal pay and conditions, was blocked by a minority of countries including the UK. However, the issue is not going to go away. France, which takes over the EU presidency in July, is in favour of the Directive.

Meanwhile, the Government has also come under pressure at home, with a Private Member’s Bill proposing new rights for agency workers receiving a second reading, and trade unions stepping up their campaign to hold the Government to its manifesto promise to provide better protection for temporary workers. Add to that the criticisms from the courts on the law governing the employment status of agency workers and it is clear that the Government needed to act. This has now happened, with the announcement of a compromise ‘deal’ between unions and employers that will give agency workers in the UK many of the same rights as employees after 12 weeks’ employment. It is hoped that this will improve the lot of agency workers whilst still providing employers with flexibility. The Government believes that this will lead to agreement in Europe on an AWD that secures the flexibility the UK seeks.

Agreement has been reached on the following points:

  • after 12 weeks in a given job an agency worker will be entitled to equal treatment; and
  • equal treatment will be defined to mean at least the basic working and employment conditions (e.g. pay and holidays) that would apply if the worker had been recruited directly by the employer to occupy the same job. It will not cover occupational social security schemes (e.g. sickness benefit and pension schemes).
The Government will engage with its European partners to seek consensus on the terms of the AWD that will enable this agreement to be brought into legal effect in the United Kingdom. It is hoped that EU agreement will be obtained in time for the legislative changes to be introduced in the next parliamentary session.

Although the Government states that there are estimated to be 1.4 million agency workers in the UK, according to a report from Leeds University Business School the most reliable statistics come from the Labour Force Survey (conducted by the Office for National Statistics), which shows that in 2007 there were on average 250,000 agency workers making up 1 per cent of the workforce. The analysis shows that agency workers earned £7.80 per hour on average in 2007 compared with £11.47 for permanent workers.
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The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

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