Fears are growing that the government will implement the Agency Workers Directive (AWD) as early as next spring, giving employers less than seven months to prepare for the changes.
As the TUC makes a resounding plea to enact the legislation in full force by April 2010 at its annual conference next week, employers’ groups have “serious concerns” that the government will rush through the legislation to keep unions onside before next year’s general election.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has already made plans to run a second and final consultation on the legislation later this month, earlier than some expected, which will be open for just four weeks.
David Yeandle, head of employment policy at manufacturers’ body the EEF, said this would pave the way for the AWD to be laid before parliament in early November.
He told Personnel Today: “There is a serious worry that the government will rush to implement the directive by April 2010. The TUC is having its conference this week and it is right at the top of their agenda. There’s a serious concern that politics will overtake practical consideration as to when this legislation is introduced.”
Yeandle added unions would not be satisfied unless the law was in place before the election. “Behind the scenes there will be a huge amount of arm-twisting,” he said.
A BIS spokesman refused to rule out implementing the directive by next April, stating ministers had made “no firm decision on the timetable”.
But employment partner Kevin Barrow at Blake Lapthorn solicitors, who is close to the negotiations, said the government was busy drafting the UK regulations, in time for the second consultation.
“There is a chance the AWD will come into force in April. We know it will be in Labour’s election manifesto,” he said.
The CBI urged the government not to make any rushed decisions.
The Agency Workers Dircetive
The AWD will give temporary workers the same rights as permanent staff after just 12 weeks in a job, including pay. Employers’ groups including the EEF, CBI and Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development have long campaigned for the government to introduce the legislation at the latest possible date: October-December 2011. They claim enacting the directive in full by next April will just put employers off hiring staff, adding further woes to the jobs market during the recession.
Director of HR policy Katja Hall said: “Throwing agency working into flux by introducing rushed regulations 18 months ahead of schedule will only deter firms from taking on temporary staff, and this will lead to higher unemployment.”
Others were more optimistic the government would set the implementation date for 2011.
Anne Fairweather, head of public policy at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, said: “The prime minister made a commitment a year ago that the regulations would be laid before parliament by the end of November, but the government can still set the implementation date far later than April 2010. Bringing in the law so quickly would just mean no-one would obey it properly.”
The TUC disputed the idea that it was “arm-twisting”. A spokesman said: “The recession has demonstrated that agency workers are particularly vulnerable to dismissal and poor treatment. Introducing new rights as early as possible would give agency workers the rights and protection they need.”