Agency Workers Directive passed in Europe: Reaction

Here we collate various reactions to the news that the Agency Workers Directive has been passed by the European Parliament – giving temporary workers in the UK equal rights to permanent staff after 12 weeks with an employer.

Katja Hall, CBI director of employment policy

“This directive will not be welcomed by employers, but it is less damaging than previous proposals as key flexibilities that underpin UK competitiveness have been protected.

“More than half of agency assignments last less than 12 weeks and will be unaffected. And while pay is included, occupational benefits that recognise the long-term relationship permanent staff have with an employer, like sick pay and pensions, are rightly excluded.

“The Agency Work and Working Time Directives were linked as a package at the European Council meeting in June. While agency work has been put to bed at a European level today, it is now imperative that the UK’s working time opt-out is retained, especially when the economy is slowing and businesses are facing an uphill struggle.”

Kevin Green, Recruitment and Employment Confederation chief executive

“The UK’s £26.6 billion recruitment industry will be directly affected by the new legislation. Today’s vote is extremely significant as the focus will now shift onto how the Equal Treatment Regulations will be applied in the UK.”

“The REC has been leading this debate through its Agency Work Commission which aims to ensure that UK implementation is practical and workable for both employers and recruiters. However, in the current economic climate we’re calling for the implementation of these regulations to be pushed back to avoid putting more jobs at risk.

“In the current downturn, temporary jobs are a vital resource for employers who are unwilling to take on permanent staff as well a providing opportunities for jobseekers. Temporary workers will also play a vital role as the economy picks up. It is essential therefore that we avoid adding any unnecessary bureaucracy and cost to the provision of agency workers.”

Mike Emmott, employee relations adviser, CIPD

“While the CIPD would have preferred a longer time period before agency staff qualify for the same rights as permanent staff, three months is better than it might have been. We will be working with the REC and others to ensure that when UK employers have to implement the regulations they are workable and do as little damage as possible to our flexible labour market.  This is not just about protecting employers’ ability to cover fluctuating workloads, it’s also about helping individuals match their preferred pattern of work.

“The UK government now needs to ensure that our opt-out from the Working Time Directive is protected. The CIPD opposes long working hours but believes that a healthy work-life balance is best achieved through better work organisation and progressive people management practices rather than statutory restrictions on working time.”

Julie Quinn, employment partner at law firm Nabarro

 “The deal done by member states at the European Council last June was that, provided the UK accepted the Agency Workers Directive, the UK could retain its 48 hour opt-out to the Working Time Directive.  The Agency Workers Directive was adopted today – however, it appears that a number of MEPs are threatening to back out of the compromise reached with the UK.

“So what will happen as regards Agency staff?  The short answer is nothing quickly, as member states have three years to adopt the Directive.  There certainly will not be any movement in the UK until the revised Working Time Directive is debated next month.”

Tina Sommer, EU and international affairs chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses

“This is a disastrous deal for small businesses, which rely on the flexibility provided by agency workers.

“Agency fees and high hourly rates mean temporary workers, far from being seen as cheap labour, are already a costly but useful way of responding to fluctuations in demand. If that flexibility is lost, many small businesses will stop using temporary employees.

“Part of the reason for the UK’s relative economic success in the past decade has been the flexibility of its workforce. This deal could put all that at risk at the worst possible time.”

Green MEP Jean Lambert, a member of the Employment and Social Affairs Committee

“I welcome the European Parliament’s approval of this Directive which embeds in law the right to equal treatment and working conditions for people doing equal work who are employed through agencies.

“Temporary workers are vulnerable and can experience lower pay or poorer working conditions, even after working for the same company for many months or even years.

“It is somewhat regretful that the UK Government will only ensure equal pay and conditions for Britain’s 1.3 million agency workers after 12 weeks of work, however this Directive will still bring improvements, especially for those who have been temporarily employed for a long period.

“This legislation is a positive landmark in the ‘flexicurity’ debate: if employers want flexible workers they will also have to offer greater security. I am also pleased that this directive includes measures, such as access to training and to child-care facilities, which will give temporary workers a fair chance to improve their employability and career development.”

Roger Helmer, Conservative MEP

“This is a bad piece of legislation… [It will] deny thousands upon thousands of people the right to work at all … It makes our labour markets less competitive and less flexible. It damages our economies at the very time we can least afford to have them damaged … You could not ask for a clearer example of the way the EU subverts democracy in Member States.”

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