Comment: Brown’s dithering is better than this decision

Earlier this month, I used this column to accuse Gordon Brown of dithering over what to do about the rights of agency workers.

Well, I send my apologies to the embattled prime minister: despite a rogue Bill making its merry way through Parliament which threatened to throw a huge spanner in the works, plans were obviously being drawn up in smoke-filled rooms to reach a compromise.

The government has now struck a deal with the CBI and TUC to give agency workers equal treatment after 12 weeks in a job.

Brown is in need of some kind words after the drubbing Labour suffered at last week’s by-election in Crewe and Nantwich. But it is unlikely he will get any from the HR community.

Research has shown that employers would be unhappy with a qualifying period of less than six months – well, that has now been halved. Almost three-quarters of respondents to Personnel Today’s online news barometer back in February said agency workers should not receive the same rights as permanent employees at all.

The deal is unhelpful and unwelcome it will undermine the flexibility of the UK labour market and risk jobs, and could prove damaging for many people who use agency work as a pathway into permanent work. Add to this the cost implications and extra red tape and it’s hard to see where HR wins from this.

Business groups have universally lined up to criticise the agreement. Even the CBI, which agreed the wording of the deal and was the major business player, said it was “the least worst outcome possible”. Hardly a resounding vote of approval for what it had just put its name to.

The threat remains that the deal could yet be toughened up in Europe, further reducing the qualifying period or extending the workplace rights covered. Suddenly, Brown’s dithering doesn’t look so bad.

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