Key talks focus on proposed amendments

A key debate today will help decide the final shape of the agency workers
directive that will give temporary staff the right to the same pay and
conditions as permanent staff.

In its current form, the draft proposes that temporary workers should have
rights to the same pay and conditions as permanent staff after they have been
employed for six weeks.

The European Parliament’s employment and social affairs committee is due to
consider the existing draft today (1 October), together with more than 100
amendments, before making a decision on its final content.

The most important amendment put forward by UK employers calls for the
qualification period for equal rights to be extended to one year.

Noel Wheatley, European affairs co-ordinator for the Engineering Employers
Federation, told Personnel Today that this vital debate will affect the content
of the final draft which will then be rubber stamped by the full European
Parliament (EP).

"That will complete the first reading of the directive. It is very
difficult to change the EP’s view once it has taken a position on the first
reading," he said.

Other amendments put forward include one supported by the EEF, to make
specialist, highly paid temps exempt.

The directive will then be considered by the Council of Ministers, where the
UK’s position is expected to receive support from Germany. The council and the
EP will come to a ‘common position’ before it returns to the EP for its second
and final reading.

Any outstanding disagreement over the directive’s content will finally be
ironed out by a conciliation committee.

The directive is expected to be formally adopted as early as next September
and will become law in the UK 18 months later.

Feedback from the industry

– Ralph Connolly, personnel
manager at NMB is concerned that the directive will damage flexibility in the
company’s workforce. The firm prints circuit boards for computers and employs
between 50 and 150 temporary staff at any one time.

"It will have a negative impact on us and will create
difficulties for the company when planning the long-term use of temporary staff.

"It will definitely increase staff costs and we will have
to be much more careful about the numbers of people we employ." he said.

NMB primarily uses temps because of seasonal fluctuations and
varied types of contracts. Connolly is worried giving temporary staff the same
terms as full time employees would generate more red tape.

– John Love, HR director at Paterson Arran, a biscuit,
chutney and preserve manufacturer, employs around 200 staff, 50 of them temps.
Love said in its current form the directive would hamper flexibility, raise
costs and damage UK competitiveness:

"I think it is definitely going to impose greater expense
in relation to recruitment of temps and employment costs.

"From a business point of view it will add complexity and
I think it will make the UK less competitive because of the added cost. The
directive will be a disincentive to use temporary, flexible labour," he

Love is also opposed to temps receiving the same terms as
full-time staff after six weeks, believing that 12 months would be a more
reasonable length of time.

– Ann New, HR manager at
Linpac moulded foams, uses temps on a weekly basis depending on the volume of
orders. The parent company has around 11,000 staff and she is responsible for
150 full-time employees, and uses around 12 temps a week.

"I think one of the big problems will arise from offering
the same terms and conditions because it will increase staffing costs,"
she said.

Linpac uses temps to cover staff holidays and to make up
numbers as orders fluctuate but New believes it would have to reconsider this
arrangement under the new rules.

"I don’t think the company would be able to stop using
temps but I’d have to think twice about the levels we use. It would mean
looking at other methods," she said.

– The Legal Services Commission is
also worried about a possible loss of staffing flexibility. The commission
manages contracts for people on legal aid and has around 1,600 staff across the

Recruitment manager at the commission Liz Geary said:
"My concerns are about the loss of business flexibility. I don’t support
temps being treated badly but some staff choose to work in this way
specifically for the higher rates," she said.

Geary currently has between 50 and 100 temps dealing with a
range of tasks including administration, IT and finance."Temps are an
increasingly expensive option for business and I think this will raise costs
and admin further," she said.

– Telecoms group Avaya employs around 30 to 40 temps in
technology roles, using agency staff on fairly long-term contracts. HR director
Mike Young said the company needed specialist IT staff in temporary

"We have specialist temps who are paid very well to do
particular tasks. It would reduce opportunities for people in IT because many
staff want a degree of flexibility and to work on a project short term, then
move on."

Young also disagrees with the six-week period for temporary
staff to qualify for equal rights.

"You pay the agency a premium to compensate for the
benefits of full time staff. The directive will put the cost up and take away
the flexibility. It will make it unattractive to use temps and we would have to
become much more selective," he added.

– Sue Fowler is employment
affairs adviser at engineering firm GKN, which produces components for the
aerospace industry. She wants to see the qualification period extended, ideally
to 18 months.

She formed part of the recent EEF delegation that lobbied in
Strasbourg for changes to the proposals.

"The main problem is that it is limiting the flexibility
of employers." The current proposals are a one-size-fits-all solution. We
want to see the six-week period extended to at least 18 months," she said.

Higher costs would prompt staffing rethink at APC
Case study: APC

Manufacturing firm APC would no longer employ temporary workers if the
agency workers directive is introduced as drafted.

Peter Vanson, personnel manager of the automotive parts company, believes
the increased red tape involved in ensuring temporary and permanent staff have
comparable conditions would make employing agency staff too complex and costly.

"It will frustrate us because we won’t be able to hire temporary staff,
which means we’re going to lose flexibility. We won’t be able to employ temps like
we do at the moment," he said.

Vanson said the company currently has around 50 temps in its 500-strong
workforce, who play a crucial role in responding to surges in demand due to the
fast pace of the automotive industry.

More than 80 per cent of the firm’s products are exported overseas and as
orders are won or lost APC needs to be able to tailor the size of its labour
force to suit the output.

"We manufacture today for delivery tomorrow, across the world. It’s a
fast-paced business and our schedules are constantly changing. We have to be
able to adjust our manpower to reflect the required speed and size of the
job," Vanson explained.

He believes many of the agency staff would lose out if the draft directive
is introduced. Most temps used are attracted by the high rates of pay, which in
some cases are higher than those offered to permanent staff.

"We pay higher rates to most of our temporary staff. I don’t think the
temps would want the same rates because they do it to earn higher pay. A lot of
them could be put out of work," he said.

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