Agency workers often unaware of rights, Acas research reveals

Workers on agency contracts as often unaware of their rights. Photo: John Nguyen/Daily Mail/REX
Workers on agency contracts as often unaware of their rights. Photo: John Nguyen/Daily Mail/REX

Research published today has shown that agency workers are often unaware of their employment rights and are afraid of raising concerns owing to fears over job security.

What has always made this employment relationship so complex is its triangular nature” – Sir Brendan Barber

The Acas paper Three sides to every story: the impact of the Agency Worker Regulations looks at recent research around agency workers, as well as employers and employees that called the Acas helpline about agency work.

On average, one in five calls to the Acas helpline related to contract issues. Acas chair Sir Brendan Barber said that agency workers feel a sense of insecurity and fear around their contracts, similar to workers on zero-hours contracts.

“We found examples of agency workers who were afraid of questioning their employment rights or completely unaware that they were entitled to some basic rights.

“Some workers also complained that they were asked to take on tasks that they were not qualified to handle and employers wanting to ignore the law so that they could sack people immediately.”

The analysis revealed that agency workers are often unaware of their rights –  particularly around holiday pay and notice periods.

They are also unfamiliar with the 12-week period after which an agency worker becomes entitled to the same basic terms and conditions as workers who have been directly employed.

Agency workers are also afraid of asserting their statutory rights due to believing that there is an imbalance of power in the employment relationship.

Examples of calls to the Acas helpline around agency work included:

  • An agency worker who worked for social services and reported that she was coerced into working with vulnerable adults even though she had not received training in safeguarding and direct payments.
  • A hirer that had employed an agency worker for two years but claimed that the conduct and performance of that worker had deteriorated. The hirer wanted to terminate the assignment immediately, rather than follow standard good practice around performance appraisals or disciplinary procedures.
  • Several workers that had not been paid for their work and not knowing who to chase for their payment.

Barber added: “What has always made this employment relationship so complex is its triangular nature – with a need to balance the needs of workers, hirers and agencies.”

Responding to the report, Kevin Green, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), said: “Acas’s own analysis shows that out of the 900,000 calls it received in 2014, 0.3 per cent were related to agency work, and of this 0.3 per cent, 43 per cent were from agency workers. That’s 967 calls. That’s out of 1.15 million agency workers who are out on assignments on any given day. Although we must all work together to ensure workers are treated fairly, it’s important to understand this context.

“It’s really disappointing to see the way that Acas have presented this issue. Recruiters are bound by regulations to make individuals aware of their rights and contractual terms. The REC goes further still – we set a compliance standard for our members that goes over and above the regulatory requirements.

“As ONS [Office for National Statistics] data shows, the majority of people don’t take on temporary work as a second-best to permanent work, but choose to work in this way to fit work around other commitments. Our own research has found that agency workers value the opportunity to get work quickly, the ability to fit work around their family, or are using temporary assignments to pick up skills and experience they can’t get elsewhere.

“In regards to pay between assignment contracts, or Swedish Derogation, this was agreed under the previous Labour government with the support of the CBI and the TUC. It is not a loophole, it is the law.”

One Response to Agency workers often unaware of rights, Acas research reveals

  1. Craig Gerrard 29 Mar 2015 at 10:26 pm #

    The law of exploitation.