Agency workers: Consultation on ‘equal treatment’ lacks clarity

The Agency Workers Directive (AWD) consultation due to close tomorrow has lacked clarity and left employers with little idea of how the new law would work in practice, employers’ groups have warned.

The proposals include allowing agency workers ‘equal treatment’ to permanent employees after just 12 weeks in a job, but the government has so far failed to clarify whether this would include holiday pay and under what circumstances employers could compare the various temporary roles to permanent staff, according to business bodies.

The comments come just days after the Institute of Directors revealed that the European Commission had said that the AWD is only likely to apply to 10% of private sector agency staff, leading experts to call for clarity on practical applications of the law.

Anne Fairweather, head of public policy at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, told Personnel Today: “The directive is very broad and sets out the principle of equal treatment for temporary workers which is a nice principle, but how it will work will take a bit more time. We want to make sure there is no confusion and want a clear framework.”

The Recruitment and Employment Confederation’s head of public policy, Anne Fairweather, tells Personnel Today why the government should delay implementing the Agency Workers Directive until November 2011. She also calls for the government to clarify the new legislation, which will allow temporary workers the same rights as permanent staff after just 12 weeks in a job.

CIPD adviser Mike Emmott added that the directive was “unclear” about what the benchmark for comparison between permanent and temporary staff should be.

“Pay comparisons for agency temps should be based on internal pay scales applying to a comparable worker within the organisation doing broadly similar work. This would remove the need to look for evidence of market rates, and simplify consideration of what a hypothetical permanent worker would have been paid – which could otherwise be a recipe for confusion and uncertainty,” he said.

Meanwhile, Peter Reilly, director, HR research and consultancy at think tank the Institute for Employment Studies, warned that the AWD in its current form could leave full-time staff feeling aggrieved.

He said: “There needs to be distinction between full-time and temporary staff, otherwise full-time staff might say, ‘Hang on a minute these people are getting all the benefits that we’re getting and they have more flexibility to move between jobs’.”

Others have repeated concerns that the proposals could restrict employers from recruiting agency workers, at a crucial time when the country is coming out of a recession and temporary contracts should be an attractive option. 

Neil Carberry, head of employment policy at the CBI, said: “Agency working is a good way of keeping people in work during a recession. By making the arrangements for taking on temps more complicated, firms may take on fewer temporary staff and use more overtime instead.”

A survey by law firm Lawrence Graham, published earlier this week, found 81% of 134 organisations questioned opposed the directive. Three-quarters favoured giving agency workers the same rights as permanent staff after at least 26 weeks.

The AWD must come into force in the UK by 5 December 2011.

A Department for Business spokesman said: “There will be a second consultation later in the year on the actual regulations, so there will be plenty of opportunity to put forward views and we will consider all responses very carefully before making any final decisions on how we will implement this directive.”

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