Agency Workers Regulations revoke could jeopardise 12-week deal

Conservative Party proposals to revoke the Agency Workers Regulations could jeopardise the minimum qualifying period of 12 weeks for which temps will be legally entitled to new rights – forcing firms to grant rights from day one, a business group has warned.

Earlier this month Tory, party leader David Cameron signed an early-day motion asking to debate the regulations in the House of Commons, over fears the Labour government will rush through the legislation ahead of the general election, expected on 6 May.

But David Yeandle, head of employment at manufacturers’ body the EEF, told Personnel Today tampering with the regulations now could spoil a deal brokered between the TUC and CBI to ensure temporary workers were given the same rights as permanent employees after 12 weeks in a job. The TUC had originally been calling for equal rights, including pay, from the first day of employment.

Yeandle said: “I am nervous that if the Conservatives were to unpick the regulations, the TUC might not play ball with the joint declaration and could tear up the deal, calling for rights from day one of employment. If we start all over again [with new regulations], we may lose the 12-week deal.”

However, several employers’ groups said they would welcome the chance to amend certain aspects of the 2010 regulations, which have derived from the EU Agency Workers Directive. Costing businesses up to £1.5bn every year, experts have warned the legislation is set to cause practical problems when it comes into force in October 2011.

Can the Agency Workers Regulations 2010 be amended?

Member states are obliged to implement the provisions of a European directive at national level. In this case, the Agency Workers Regulations have been prepared to implement the Agency Workers Directive, which gives agency workers the right to be treated equally to directly employed workers. There is little scope for any government, Conservative or Labour, to revoke legislation that derives from a European directive. However, it may be possible for a future Tory government to amend the existing regulations.

What else might the Conservatives look to change?

Another example of legislation emanating from Europe that a new Conservative government might like to amend, but would have little scope to do so, is the Working Time Regulations, which derive from the Working Time Directive.

What would UK employment law look like under a Conservative government?

As we get closer to a general election, there is a strong possibility that the country will soon have a Conservative government for the first time since 1997.

XpertHR considers those areas of employment law on which an incoming Conservative government might focus, and at how easy it would be for a new Conservative government to change the current rules.

Source: XpertHR

Anne Fairweather, head of public policy at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, said: “We are not looking for a wholesale review of the regulations, but we would welcome the opportunity to review how you measure 12 weeks’ service – at the moment, temps would qualify even with several six-week breaks during that service.”

She added the definition of both pay and bonuses needed clarifying, as employers have warned it will be difficult to compare temps’ roles with permanent employees when trying to give out equal reward.

Katja Hall, director of employment policy at the CBI, agreed. “We would like certain aspects [of the regulations] revisited. In particular, we want to see the approach to pay and the way the qualifying period is calculated simplified. That will ensure the agency sector can continue to generate jobs as we recover from the recession.”

Others were more sceptical of the chances of amending the regulations, after two lengthy consultations involving all parties had already taken place. The early-day motion, tabled on 15 March, has only attracted five signatures from other Conservative MPs.

Mike Emmott, employment adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said: “There is only limited room for manoeuvre on key issues, given the terms of the directive, and the agreement between the CBI and TUC, which sets a 12-week qualifying period.”

The TUC vowed to ensure that the early-day motion, or any further attempts by the Tories to amend the regulations, would not interfere with the deal it brokered. A spokesman said: “Agency workers can rest assured that this early-day motion will not impact on the new rights they are set to enjoy from October 2011.”

A Conservative Party spokeswoman said: “Labour want to rush the legislation through now to please their union paymasters in the run-up to a general election. Rather than Gordon Brown making things worse, we need to get Britain working. That is why we think the legislation should be delayed until 2011, when a measure that could cost 250,000 jobs can be given proper parliamentary scrutiny.”

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