New temp directive

The
UK has about 1.7 million temporary workers, yet the market remains one of the
most unregulated in the EU. In an attempt, it says, to improve working
conditions and develop the attractiveness of the sector, the European
Commission adopted a draft directive on 20 March proposing a minimum level of
protection for temps.

The
basic principles

Essentially,
the draft says employers will be obliged to provide equivalent rates of pay and
benefits to ‘comparable’ permanent workers once temps have been employed for
six weeks. The draft directive also stipulates that temps must be informed
about job vacancies with the employer, and be allowed access to what it calls
“social services” (for example canteens and childcare facilities).

Any
clauses in employment contracts varying or obstructing these rights will be
null and void.

The
industry response

The
plan has been criticised by the CBI and the CIPD, who say it does not provide a
sensible balance between protection for agency workers and flexibility for
employers. They say employers will stop using temps because of the added legal
responsibilities.

The
measures could therefore undermine the market rather than promote it. Agencies
would be less likely to offer a quick solution to staffing problems, and
employers would be more likely to demand more of their permanent staff.
Employers claim they will suffer a huge rise in costs and enormous practical
difficulties in, say, giving pension rights and other benefits to temps.

Interestingly,
the draft has been produced while there is no agreement between workers’
representatives and employers operating at a European level over the concept of
a ‘comparable employee’. Attempts to arrive at a workable definition have
failed in the past, but rather than work on this aspect, the draft directive
has been published in the hope that agreement will be reached in the future.

The
reaction from temporary recruitment agencies has been mixed. Some say the
proposals will force smaller agencies out of business; others see it as a
golden opportunity to negotiate contracts for services with employers and
employ the temps themselves.

While
this seems reasonable, the increased costs associated with equal treatment
would still have to be passed on to employers. Other agencies claim they will
lobby the Government for changes, because they envisage having to bear huge
administrative costs to revise terms of employment for every placement. They
also argue that the six-week qualifying period is too short and will tempt
employers to dispense with temps before the end of the six weeks to save costs.

The draft is now before the European Parliament and each
member state for approval. It could become law this year.

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