Home > General Politics > Agency Workers: One step forward, two steps back

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.

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  1. Christopher
    May 19, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    I worked for an agency on and off for for 3 months and then for a solid 5 months. Throughout my time I was consistently booked by the same company, who even delegated senior roles such as cash management and invoices. As a temp I was paid more than full-time employees who were on the company payroll. So not only was I earning more, the company was paying the agency per hour for my time. So why didn’t the company cut out the middle man, save money and employ me directly?!

    The temp agency had a clause in both our contracts that I was effectively the property of the agency and should the company wished to take me on their payroll they would have to buy me out of my contract with the agency. To buy me out wasn’t viable for such a small company so they began to look for their own staff and hired directly. I had already made the agency thousands of pounds but they were not willing to let me go onto the company’s payroll.

    • May 19, 2011 at 11:59 pm

      Couldn’t the company have spoken to you in person about you leaving the agency and being employed directly with them? Sure you were “effectively the property of the agency” but could the company have whispered in your ear, so to speak? Seems they shot themselves in the foot there.

      • Christopher
        May 20, 2011 at 8:24 am

        You would think they would have but they were a small company who unfortunately and understandably were not prepared to buy me out of my contract with the agency. It was a complete restraint of trade.

        When time came for the company to let me go, there was no notice period. It was a case of, we hired someone new, he starts tomorrow, you stop today.

      • May 20, 2011 at 12:06 pm

        The other problem here is unfair dismissal, which unless you’ve been hired for 12 months by a company you cannot file for – even if agency workers were given the same legal rights as perm employees, they’d still be subject to that nugget of stupidity. Though the notice issue is a massive problem; it’s simply not fair that a person can be dropped that easily.

  2. Edgar
    May 20, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    In local government agency workers are the first to had their employment terminated as a result of cuts. Under New Labour councils increased the number of agency workers and decreased the number of full timers. We had agenct=y workers who worked for us for a number of years! Agency workers are easier to get rid of, that was the motive. And I bet no coucnillor, including the one that writes for this site, ever said anything about it. That would be on the list of things they didn’t tell you about.

    • May 20, 2011 at 8:54 pm

      ooooo that’s quite a complaint levelled at everyone’s favourite (now ex-) cllr – but I agree with everything else you’ve said; it’s a joke, a distinct pop at workers’ rights and the fight is not over yet.

  3. Agryx
    June 13, 2011 at 4:57 am

    Come October thanks to the idiot politicians there will be no long term employment contracts for agencies or their unemployment workers who now will be forced into short term employment..Firms will streamline their workforce and make sure they have the minimum amount of staff they need and throw away the rest, causing higher unemployment. Which firm would want to take on more agency staff for longer than 12 weeks, which will now cost the earth if they have shift allowances and so on.

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