Agency worker rights could kick in even earlier warns expert

Agency workers could gain equal rights to permanent staff at an even earlier stage than the 12-week watershed agreed last week, a senior official has warned.

The government reached an agreement with the CBI and the TUC last week which would see temporary and agency workers given equal treatment after 12 weeks in a job.

But the agreement has to be rubber stamped by European employment ministers next month, before being subject to further scrutiny by the European Parliament in the autumn. The European Parliament will then decide whether to give the UK government the go ahead to implement the deal into UK law as part of the Agency Workers Directive.

David Yeandle, deputy director of employment policy at manufacturers’ organisation the EEF, warned that the government faced a massive challenge convincing ministers and EU officials to stick to the 12-week limit.

“Employers are a long way from the end of the road [with this deal],” he warned. “There are still a number of hurdles to clear and officials might be unhappy with its wording and take a much stronger line.”

Yeandle conceded that the 12-week threshold was better than the six weeks proposed in the current directive, but said it was still “a long way away” from what employers had originally wanted. The CBI called the deal “the least worst outcome available”.

Research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development earlier this year showed significant employer resistance to a qualifying period of less than six months.

The institute said the government’s intention to push for 12 weeks “seemed bound to cause a great detail of unhappiness among employers”.

Sara Edwards, HR and change director at luxury retailer Liberty, last week warned the decision would have a detrimental effect on businesses.

“The very nature of using a temporary, short-term solution means this decision may be based on cost,” she told Personnel Today. “Particularly with the current economic outlook, the timing of this deal and the impact on business is not helpful or welcome,” she added.

What the proposed deal covers

  • After 12 weeks’ in a given job there will be an entitlement to equal treatment.
  • The deal covers basic pay and working conditions, but not enhanced sick pay or pension rights offered by employers.
  • The government will consult on ways for resolving disputes regarding the definition of equal treatment and compliance with the new rules.
  • The CBI estimated that half of all agency contracts would be unaffected as they lasted under 12 weeks.
  • Any new law is likely to be introduced in October 2009.

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