Temporary workers’ rights law should be reformed, says judge

Controversy over the rights of agency workers has been kept fully in the spotlight following a landmark legal ruling last week.

The Court of Appeal dismissed a claim for unfair dismissal against Greenwich Borough Council after it decided to replace a long-standing agency worker with another individual.

The court ruled that the claimant had no contractual relationship with the council, despite having worked there for many years.

Employment lawyers said the ball was now firmly back in the government’s court as to whether extra protection for temps and agency workers should be granted.

As part of the ruling, the lead judge said that money spent on tribunal claims would be better used in lobbying for reform of existing legislation.

Mark Hammerton, employment partner at Eversheds law firm, said: “In short, this decision represents perhaps only short-term relief for employers. Should the government lose sufficient allies in the EU, the issue of enhanced protection may be taken out of the UK’s hands.”

The government has resisted attempts to introduce the Agency Workers Directive in the UK, with discussions stalled at European level.

A union-backed Bill to give agency workers equal rights is due for its crucial second reading on 22 February. Previous attempts to steer a Private Members Bill on the issue through Parliament have been blocked by senior MPs.

The CBI said new legislation would put jobs at risk. “Temps have a wide range of employment rights covering working time, paid holiday, minimum wages and discrimination, and many are well paid,” the employers’ group said.

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