Agency worker rights consultation launched

Agency workers are a step closer to receiving the same pay and conditions as permanent staff after just 12 weeks in the job following a government consultation outlining the proposals, published today.

Ministers have launched a three-month consultation to invite employers, unions and interested parties to comment on the deal reached before Christmas, which gives rights to agency workers who have spent 12 weeks with an employer the same rights as permanent staff.

Although legislation is expected to be passed later this year, the government will have until December 2011 to bring the new laws into force.

Pat McFadden, employment relations minister, said he was determined to ensure all employees got a fair deal at work as soon as possible.

“These proposals will take us another step forward by boosting the rights of agency workers, while making sure both employers and agency workers have the flexibility they need,” he said.

“In both good times and bad, it is vital that we give people a fair deal at work without damaging our flexible labour market and putting jobs at risk.”

But John Cridland, the CBI’s deputy-director general, said many questions remained on how to implement the directive in the UK.

“Agency working is important for the economy and we mustn’t undermine it with clumsy regulation,” he said. “It would be nonsense to introduce redundancy rights [for agency workers] in a company where agency staff work but are not employed.”

Kevin Green, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, added: “A poorly drafted and unhelpful implementation of the EU Directive could unleash a regulatory wrecking-ball through the UK’s jobs market.

“Over a million temporary and contract workers are on assignment each week, and it is crucial to ensure that the equal treatment measures do not reduce employment opportunities.”

However, unions welcomed the consultation, with TUC general secretary Brendan Barber urging the government to make agency workers a priority in the coming months.

“The 12-week qualifying period for equal rights for agency workers must be tightly defined so employers cannot get round the law by hiring temps on a series of short-term contracts, or moving them to different assignments in the same workplace,” he said.

In February, a coalition of business groups, unions and legal experts presented recommendations to the government on how best to implement the Agency Worker’s Directive.

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