Fears that domestic legislation will be passed giving temporary workers full employment rights have grown after EU ministers failed to reach agreement on the Agency Workers Directive last week.
The UK government was one of the few that opposed the Portuguese presidency’s plan for a six-week qualifying period. Unions have campaigned hard for temps to have equal rights to permanent employees from day one of employment. But employers’ groups want a qualifying period of a whole year with one company before gaining full rights.
David Yeandle, deputy director of employment policy at manufacturers’ body the EEF, said: “This [failure to reach a decision] will intensify pressure on the government to do something domestically, which is a worry. The political scene is difficult for the prime minister at the moment, and he will not want to upset the trade unions.”
Labour MP Andrew Miller is to introduce the Temporary and Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill in February, with backing from unions, in an effort to secure equal rights for these types of workers. The move follows a previous Private Members’ Bill that was ‘talked out’ by the government earlier this year.
Meanwhile, lawyers said that a UK Court of Appeal ruling could yet set a precedent for temps to gain full employment rights. The court is deciding on the case of James v Greenwich Borough Council, where an agency worker initially lost her unfair dismissal case for being replaced while off sick.
Martin Warren, head of employment at law firm Eversheds, said: “While the directive seems to have gone on the back burner once again, the current tussle in the UK courts means the issue of increased rights for agency workers hasn’t gone away.”
Reaction to stalling of Agency Workers Directive
- “We welcome the news that the proposed Agency Workers Directive has been blocked. If implemented, it would undermine the UK’s flexible labour market.” Mike Emmott, employee relations adviser, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development
- “We have never understood the raison d’etre behind the Agency Workers Directive, and are relieved to see that an agreement was not reached in Brussels.” Helen Reynolds, acting chief executive, Recruitment and Employment Confederation
- “What is most depressing today is to listen to ministers endorse the business argument that the UK economy can only succeed by having fewer rights for its employees than its competitors.” Brendan Barber, general secretary, TUC