Hundreds of thousands of agency workers across the UK will benefit from improved working conditions when the new equal treatment rights for temps come into effect on Saturday. Unlike fixed-term employees and part-time workers, until now agency workers …
Hundreds of thousands of agency workers across the UK will benefit from improved working conditions when the new equal treatment rights for temps come into effect on Saturday.
Unlike fixed-term employees and part-time workers, until now agency workers have not had a right to the same pay and holiday rights as directly employed staff in the same workplace. This lack of rights has left them open to abuse, says the TUC.
Nearly half (46 per cent) of the agency workers who responded to a YouGov survey commissioned by the TUC said they received less holiday entitlement than permanent staff. One in three (33 per cent) reported getting less pay for doing the same work as directly employed staff and nearly one in three (28 per cent) said they lost out on overtime and unsocial hours payments. According to the Labour Force Survey (LFS), the average agency worker gets five days less holiday a year than permanent employees.
The LFS also found that temps earned on average 68 per cent of the pay of permanent workers – a 32 per cent pay gap.
However, following years of campaigning by unions, from 1 October agency workers will benefit from new, improved rights at work.
From the first day of an assignment, agency temps working in the private, public or voluntary sector will have a right to use any facilities provided by the hirer – such as a crèche, canteen or transport services. They will also be entitled to information about internal vacancies at the company they are working for, and to be given the opportunity to apply for them.
After 12 weeks in the same role with the same hirer, agency workers will be entitled to the same pay, holiday entitlement and working hours as permanent staff, and they will also receive improved maternity rights.
The TUC believes these rights will help stamp out some of the exploitation that agency temps have faced at work, will help young workers gain a stepping stone into permanent employment and protect the well-being of pregnant agency workers.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “These new rights for agency workers are an important step forward in helping the UK’s hundreds of thousands of agency temps get a fairer deal at work.
“For too long, agency workers have faced discrimination at work. They are frequently paid less, are required to work excessive hours with no overtime pay, and are entitled to less holiday than directly employed workers doing exactly the same job.
“Some rogue employers have used temps to undermine the terms and conditions of existing workforces, replacing permanent staff with agency workers on lower pay, with no security, no training, no sick pay, minimum holidays and no pension provision.
“But thanks to hard campaigning by unions this is all about to change. Now, after 12 weeks in the same role with the same hirer, the law will require agency temps receive equal pay for the job they do and to receive some of the same rights as permanent staff working alongside them.
“Recruiting and treating our agency workers fairly will make them more motivated and more loyal to the companies they work for, which will benefit employers and make temping a more attractive option for working people.”
The CWU also welcomed the news despite concerns that some employers may still attempt to circumvent the new rights to equal treatment that have finally been awarded to ‘temporary’ staff.
CWU general secretary Billy Hayes said: “It’s been a long time coming, but after years of campaigning by the CWU and other unions, hundreds of thousands of agency workers across the UK can now look forward to some basic employment fairness.
“After 12 weeks in a given job, people who previously could only dream of the superior terms and conditions of their directly employed counterparts will now be entitled to equal treatment as of right. For many, this will mean substantial pay rise and equalised terms and conditions as early as December 24.”
Speaking at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool yesterday, Billy hit back at attempts by vested interests to rubbish the new regulations and associated speculation that the Coalition government is looking at ways to water down the Regulations.
“Although the regulations were agreed between the CBI, the TUC and the last Labour government, David Cameron clearly sees these vital protections for agency workers as a threat to his City chums. Speculation has been rife that new loopholes are being sought to avoid workers qualifying for equal treatment – and, if they emerge, these threats need to be challenged every inch of the way.”
Meanwhile, with the first agency workers now set to benefit from the terms of equal treatment on December 24, the CWU is keeping close tabs on how the regulations are actually applied by agencies and hirers to ensure vulnerable agency workers actually receive their new employment rights.
CWU assistant secretary Sally Bridge explains: “As with any major new piece of employment legislation, the devil is in the detail – and the CWU is working closely with companies to ensure that our agency members receive their new entitlements in full.”
THE ‘COST’ OF EQUAL RIGHTS FOR TEMPS: BUSTING THE MYTHS
Myth: Agency workers aren’t any worse off than permanent staff
Fact: Part-time and fixed-term contract workers enjoy equal treatment with full-time and permanent staff, but up until 1 October 2011 when the agency worker regulations (AWR) come into effect, employers have been free to discriminate against agency workers in terms of pay and basic working conditions. They have hired agency workers on lower hourly rates than they would pay directly employed workers and on far worse terms and conditions to do the same job as directly employed staff. Agency staff miss out on a whole range of benefits such as holidays, overtime and bonuses, and this insecurity has a huge effect on their financial position. For example, temporary agency workers are far more likely to be low paid than permanent employees; LFS data shows that 44 per cent of temporary agency workers earned less than £6.50 an hour, compared to 19 per cent of permanent employees. The problem is particularly acute amongst part-time agency workers where the proportion earning less than £6.50 rises to 65 per cent.
Myth: Giving agency workers equal rights will lead to a loss of temporary agency jobs
Fact: Similar arguments were made with regard to the introduction of the national minimum wage (NMW), and now no one – not even the business community – is claiming that the NMW has cost jobs. Since the NMW was introduced, more than 1,750,000 extra jobs have been created. The same false claims were made when part-time workers were given protection; again, these extra rights did not cost jobs in the UK. While the regulations may make some employers reconsider their staffing strategies, those who are genuinely using agency workers to cover short-term staffing needs are likely to continue to do so, particularly in a climate of economic uncertainty. Where however, unscrupulous hirers have been using agency workers on a long-term basis because they are cheaper, the regulations may make them consider alternatives including greater use of permanent or fixed-term contracts which actually offer greater certainty of employment. Given that a significant proportion of those temping are ‘reluctant’ temps (65 per cent, LFS) who would prefer more secure employment, greater use by employers of other forms of employment such as permanent or fixed-term contracts could be beneficial.
Myth: Small businesses cannot afford to give temps equal rights
Fact: As before, the introduction of equal treatment for part-time workers and the national minimum wage did not lead to job losses. Businesses of all sizes, but perhaps especially the smaller ones, are facing a range of more significant challenges as a result of government economic policy, for example the impact of the January 2011 2.5 per cent VAT increase, rising fuel and transport costs, difficulty in securing finance and the effect of unemployment and financial cuts depressing consumer demand.
Myth: Agency workers are only in temporary jobs for short placements so don’t need equal rights
Fact: LFS figures show that 35 per cent of agency staff have been in the same job for more than a year and that they are not just filling short-term temporary needs.
Myth: Agency workers use temp jobs as a ‘stepping stone’ to a permanent career
Fact: Many of the companies that agency workers are placed with do not invest in training, so temps are far less likely to learn new skills than directly employed staff. As a result they become trapped in a career of low-paid and insecure work, in a weak position to move on to better paid, more secure work. However, the AWR 2010 give agency workers a new ‘day one’ right to be informed about vacancies with the hirer they are temping for and this is a welcome measure that may genuinely assist agency workers to move into more secure work.
Myth: Employers have nothing to gain from giving agency workers equal rights
Fact: Employers would benefit from offering temp workers equal rights, as agency work is not currently viewed as an attractive line of work by many. LFS figures show that 65 per cent of agency workers say they would prefer the security of a permanent job. Employers would benefit from a wider pool of experienced and skilled labour if agency work became a more attractive option. They would also enjoy the benefits of a more committed and motivated temp workforce in terms of customer service and product quality.
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