Agency Workers: One step forward, two steps back
Last year a temp worker from the north-east of England, Thomas Sutton, wrote on the Comment is Free pages:
There is a massive section of the workforce that has no voice, seemingly very little protection at work and little trade union representation. I am referring to agency workers
The mere presence of agency workers within the workplace also immediately threatens the terms and conditions of the permanent staff: they are paid less than them, and in the hunt for a permanent job at their temporary workplace are more enthused to go out of their way to please their bosses. They become a section of labour that is free from permanent staff’s union power.
However on 6 May 2011 the government published final guidance for employers and recruitment agencies on the Agency Workers Regulations (AWR), which comes into force on 1 October 2011.
The guidelines stipulate that temp workers – numbers of which have risen by 22% over the last year, according to figures from de poel – must have the same basic working conditions as their counterparts, which include facilities such as staff canteens, childcare facilities and transport services.
Though according to the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), only 13% of temps are currently paid less than if they were directly hired, the new rules mean that if a temp worker feels they are not being paid the same as a full-time worker for the same role, the employer is liable.
Darren Newman, employment lawyer at In Company Training, cleared things up saying:
The agency would get sued as they pay the worker, but if they want to say ‘we’re paying you what the hirer said was the right amount’ they could put forward the defence that they’ve taken reasonable steps to discover what the right level of pay was and the hirer could be joined to the claim
So the regulations can be of some hope to those agency workers who feel unrepresented.
There are unintended consequences however. According to the Government’s agency worker regulations impact study, 50% of all temporary assignments are less than 12 weeks, so no change will be felt by the employer, and the situation of those agency workers will be no different (see information on the 12 week qualifying period).
Furthermore, there is nothing to stop employers taking on agency workers for 11 weeks only, then finding new ones so as to avoid being obliged to offer the worker equal treatment.
The new legislation is a move in the right direction for the rights of agency workers, but there is nothing in place to stop hirers using a pool of workers as a way round payroll and administration costs.
Flexible workers are good for employers in case sudden sickness interferes with completing workloads, but if they were better linked up to unions then risk of unfair dismissal after 11 weeks in the same role would be greatly decreased.