Employers stuck in limbo while Brown dithers

Just what is the government’s position on increasing workplace rights for temps and agency workers?

Ministers will insist that the government is committed to finding a solution at European level through the Agency Workers Directive.But with negotiations having ground to a halt after years of making little progress, Labour MPs – backed by the trade unions – have got fed up with waiting.

The private members’ Bill that aims to force employers to give these workers the same rights, such as pay and pensions, as permanent employees, reached committee stage in Parliament last week. Employment relations minister Pat McFadden and his cronies had the chance to ditch the Bill permanently by voting against it, but abstained, probably not wishing to upset Labour backbenchers any more after the party’s rout in the local elections.

Infuriatingly, any UK legislation would be superseded by the EU directive, so all this time and effort may be pointless anyway.

The Conservatives’ favourite accusation to throw at prime minister Gordon Brown is that he is ‘dithering’ over making the big decisions. While rights for agency workers and temps might not constitute a ‘big decision’ in Brown’s great vision – there is certainly a degree of dithering. His answer so far has been to set up a commission for employers, unions and government to further examine the issue.

The focus for ministers has to remain on finding a workable solution at European level the quibbling in Parliament is nothing more than a distraction. In the meantime, the danger for employers is that the government will be railroaded into introducing damaging and unworkable legislation just to appease irate MPs and union chiefs.

Whichever side of the argument you come down on, whether or not you think temps should have equal rights from day one, after six weeks, six months, one year or not at all – clarity is sorely needed.

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