Union says scrapping agency laws will bring further misery for construction workers

Tim Lezard

UCATTUCATT is warning that government plans to repeal regulations which control how employment agencies operate and replace them with a system of self-regulation will lead to the exploitation.

Under the government’s proposals, the Employment Agencies Act and the existing regulations covering employment agencies would be scrapped. The Employment Agencies Standards Inspectorate (EASI) which is responsible for regulating agencies in the non-licensed sector would be closed.

As well as allowing self-regulation of employment agencies, agencies would no longer be regulated for record keeping, advertising vacancies and on suitability and identity checks. Rules covering what additional services agencies can and can’t charge for would also be scrapped. This could result in workers finding that large deductions were being made from their pay for such services as CV checking, training, accommodation and travel.

The level of non-compliance in the construction sector was demonstrated by a targeted inspection exercise undertaken by EASI between 2010-12. EASI inspected 59 employment agencies operating in construction, of which 54 (92%) were found not to be complying with regulations and were issued with warnings.

Most disturbingly given the high number of accidents and deaths suffered by agency workers, the government is proposing that an agency’s role in the safety of workers will be dramatically reduced. Employment agencies will no longer be required to obtain health and safety information from companies hiring workers and they will no longer be required to tell workers about any health and safety risks.

UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy said: “Construction workers are all too frequently exploited by employment agencies, with unpaid wages and excessive charges common. Rather than try to improve the situation the government is proposing to scrap the few regulations that exist, exposing workers to greater exploitation and further misery.”

Under the government’s proposals workers would have to take individual cases to employment tribunals as there would be no scope for government intervention.

Mr Murphy added: “Rather than scrapping legislation the government should be extending the Gangmasters Licencing Act to cover other areas such as construction where unscrupulous agencies operate. Those agencies that play by the rules and treat their workers with dignity and respect have nothing to fear from licensing.”

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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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