Government will not amend agency workers regulations

The Government will not make any changes to the Agency Workers Regulations which come into force next year, despite “considerable sympathy” for arguments against the new rules.

Employment relations minister Edward Davey today said that the Government will not be proceeding with any amendment to the Regulations, but will instead use the next 12 months to develop the “best possible” guidance to help employers comply with their obligations.

Coming into force in October 2011, the Agency Workers Regulations 2010 were conceived after the CBI and TUC, together with the previous Government, brokered a deal whereby agency workers will qualify for “equal treatment” as staff employed directly after 12 weeks in their post. The European Agency Workers Directive (AWD) intended this principle to apply from the first day of employment but did allow member states some flexibility on implementation, including the length of the qualifying period.

Before the general election the then shadow business secretary Jonathan Djanogly indicated that if the Tories were elected, they would review the proposed legislation as they were “very unhappy” about the fact that the proposed 12-week qualifying period was not set out in the AWD, nor was there any consultation from employers, the recruitment industry, or Parliament.

However, in his statement, Davey indicated that the Government’s hands were tied due to the “unique legal situation” of the CBI-TUC deal: “The Government’s ability to make changes to address such matters is constrained by the fact that the Regulations are based to a significant degree on the agreement brokered by the previous administration between the CBI and TUC.”

David Yeandle, head of employment policy at the manufacturers’ organisation EEF, said: “It is disappointing that the Government has not felt able to make some changes which would have made it easier for manufacturers to implement these Regulations. However, industry recognises that, if changes had been made, this could have put at risk the vitally important 12 week qualifying period before equal treatment has to apply.

“This would have been too serious a risk for the Government to take as retaining this key element of these Regulations will help to ensure that agency working remains a key part of the UK’s flexible labour market.”

Kevin Green, chief executive of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, added: “This was a first big test of the Government’s stated commitment to lightening the load on business and we are disappointed with the outcome. We made a strong case for a review in our discussions with the minister. However, re-opening the regulations was always a long shot and would have required support from the trade unions.”

Recruitment firm Adecco has recently carried out research among UK HR professionals in which 80% of respondents said they had “no idea” what the consequences of non-compliance with the AWR would be, and that almost two-thirds (61%) did not realise the Regulations would come into force in a year’s time.

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