Agency Workers Directive could be diluted

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Lawyers secretly commissioned by the Prime Minister’s office to examine the impact of the European Union’s Agency Workers Directive have concluded that its UK implementation could be diluted, the Daily Telegraph has reported.

The Directive, which led to the UK’s Agency Workers Regulations, was “gold-plated” with additional rules that didn’t need to be included, lawyers reportedly advised.

The Agency Workers Regulations, which are due to come into force next month, give agency workers the same basic employment conditions as permanent recruits after 12 weeks in the same role and there has been some concern over its impact on businesses.

Prior to the last general election, the Conservatives indicated that they would review the legislation as they were “very unhappy” about the fact that the proposed 12-week qualifying period was not set out in the AWD and that there was no consultation with employers, the recruitment industry or Parliament.

However, at the end of 2010, the coalition Government announced that it would make no changes to the Agency Workers Regulations, indicating that its hands were tied due to the fact that the Regulations were based on an agreement between the CBI and TUC made under the previous administration.

The Telegraph report states that one option suggested to the Prime Minister’s office was the “armageddon” tactic of refusing to introduce the new laws. However, were the Government to do this it could face multi-million pound EU fines.

Darren Newman, XpertHR consultant editor, said: “The Agency Workers Regulations were actually laid before Parliament in January 2010 and so if the current Government was unhappy with them, it had plenty of time to make any changes it felt were necessary. In fact, it has already made some minor amendments to correct drafting errors. It is difficult to see how any substantive changes could be made before 1 October.”

Newman added that, should the Government want to make substantive changes to the Regulations, it is vital that this be properly consulted on, as hasty amendments could cause “huge confusion”.

“Technically, the Regulations could be revoked altogether, but that would be a nuclear option which would leave the Government exposed to legal claims from thousands of agency workers up and down the country,” Newman explained. “The Government is required to implement the Agency Workers Directive by 5 December 2011 and there is ultimately no getting around that.”

The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) said that it would welcome any measures that would make life easier for the recruitment industry, but has echoed Newman’s feeling that the Government has already had time to make any changes it felt necessary.

Kevin Green, chief executive of the REC, argued: “If the Government was to go head to head with the EU in simply refusing to introduce the new laws, there would be legitimate questions as to why this option was not pursued before, as agencies have already invested substantial time and money in preparing for implementation on 1 October.”

Employers can find more information about the Agency Workers Regulations as they currently stand here.

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