This week’s letters

MEP responds to reader plea over temps directive

In our 1 October issue, we published our joint research with Manpower which
showed that both businesses and temps in the UK will be damaged by the draft EU
Agency Workers Directive. Personnel Today asked its readers to e-mail the MEP
directly responsible for the directive, Ieke van den Burg, urging her to change
the six-week qualification period for temps gaining equal pay and benefits with
permanent staff. Here is her response to a letter from reader Geraldine Dawson:

The main concern in your letter is that I, as rapporteur for the European
Parliament, would not take into account the specific situation in the UK. Let
me make clear that this is not the case. I had and have extensive contact with
the British Government, trade unions, employer organisations and temporary work
and recruitment agencies.

As a member of the European Parliament, it is my task to take into account
positions of all the different member states. I tried to find a balanced
position. I certainly did not try to impose a one-size fits all approach on the
member states.

Not only is it important to find a balance for different member states, it
is also vital to find the right balance between the flexibility and protection
of temporary agency workers.

It is my conviction that temporary agency work can make a positive
contribution to making the European labour market more efficient and flexible,
and help young people, women and the unemployed to enter the labour market.

But I am firmly committed to the demand that basic employment and working
conditions should always be respected. A user company should not have financial
advantages from hiring a temp (i.e. cheap labour), compared to directly
employing a worker – the advantage of temporary work should be its flexibility.

I will do my utmost to contribute to the creation of an effective directive
that will provide a sound basis for using temporary agency work all over
Europe. And one which will provide basic protection to temporary workers,
taking into account the effects on standards in the user companies and sectors
as well.

Ieke van den Burg
Rapporteur for the Agency Workers Directive, MEP

Strike action must be a right for firefighters

I was pleased to read that many of the figures quoted in your debate ‘Could
legislation stop the strikes?’ believe that banning strikes in essential
services would be difficult (News debate, 8 October).

They realise that it would go against the grain of the calls for partnership
between employers and employees that are currently being made by the

The Work Foundation advocated the need for compulsory arbitration, but there
is no such thing as an independent inquiry into areas such as pay and conditions
of service.

There can also be no such thing as an independent arbitration service as
there will always be pressures exerted on the arbitrators by government,
employers and staff representatives.

Employers could, in theory, pass an outrageous set of demands to the
employees’ representatives, failing to note the concerns of the employees and
then expect the arbitration to attempt to get an agreement. Without the
ultimate sanction of withdrawal of labour, the scene would be set for a return
to the worker wage slavery of the early 20th century.

All workers – including those in so-called essential services – should have
the right to withdraw their labour. Concerted action to protect or benefit the
majority must be possible, and supported by a framework of rules and

There is no doubt in my mind that the possible action my colleagues and I
may shortly be undertaking will be seen by some as inexcusable. It is also a
difficult decision for us to make as no one wants to strike.

However, given our commitment to this essential service for the benefit of
many, our right to withdraw our labour must be upheld so that we do not
continue to be taken advantage of by our employers and the Government. Enacting
legislation to deny other ‘essential workers’ this right will only create a
climate of opportunity for the unscrupulous among your profession.

Les Reid
Acting secretary of a command, The Fire Brigades Union

‘Sexual persuasion’ is an offensive term

Denise Keating’s article ‘Getting caught in the discrimination trap’,
suggested that a single equality commission should replace the existing
commissions for race, gender and disability (Comment, 15 October).

I unreservedly support this idea. She argued that a single organisation
would be better able to deal with these issues, as well as the ‘new areas of
age, religion and sexual persuasion’. Sexual persuasion? As a gay man, I am
more than happy to use the term sexual orientation, or even sexuality, as
generic terms to describe gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

However, ‘persuasion’ implies that gay people have been influenced or
coerced in some way into becoming homosexual. If the Equalities Commission can
do anything, it may be able to help increase understanding and awareness of
sexual orientation so that unfortunate, and offensive, terms such as ‘sexual
persuasion’ can be avoided in the future.

Andrew Lashbrooke
Naval civilian personnel HR information services manager, Ministry of Defence

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