Employers are fearful that the controversial agency workers Bill, which is already causing problems, will be usurped by even more employment legislation.
The Temporary and Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill, sponsored by Labour MP Andrew Miller, would give agency workers the same right to the terms and conditions as permanent or directly employed staff, such as equal pay, pensions and training entitlements.
But with the EU Agency Workers Directive set to be firmly back on the agenda this summer, the British Chambers of Commerce has argued there is no point in introducing the new UK law now. Chris Hannant, head of policy, told Employers’ Law: “If we agree on the Bill now, the EU directive will come along and take precedence anyway. This will lead to double implementation for employers – which is the worst-case scenario.”
The UK government blocked plans on EU regulation last December. But with France taking over the EU presidency this year, and looking set to revive plans to allow agency workers equal rights after a qualifying period of only six weeks in the job, the UK may face defeat on the issue.
Which leads to another point overlooked by the Bill, according to campaigners against it the qualifying period for which agency workers should be eligible for the same rights.
The TUC has called for equal rights to be effective from day one, whereas business groups believe agency workers should wait at least a year.
Shadow business minister and Conservative MP for Huntingdon, Jonathon Djanogly, said: “The qualifying period is nothing to do with this Bill it just states ‘equal rights’ for agency workers. The situation in Europe makes this Bill irrelevant.”
Djanogly also said the new Bill does little to encourage flexibility in the labour workforce, echoing the CBI’s view that the additional burden of legislation could force companies to axe 250,000 temporary jobs.
Employer groups are unanimous in their belief that better enforcement of UK law is needed to protect agency workers – not new law.
Djanogly added: “This is somehow a Bill to help workers being victimised – but there are laws already to deal with workers being victimised. They’re not being enforced and they should be.”