Proposed Temporary Workers Directive

Since
1990, the European Commission has strongly been pushing for employment
protection rights for what it calls ‘atypical’ workers, such as workers who are
not normal full-time, permanent employees. This programme, based upon Article
137 of the amended Treaty of Rome, has succeeded in securing directives on
part-time work and fixed-term contract workers – the part-time work rules were
implemented in the UK on 1 July 2000, while the fixed-term rules are to be
implemented in the UK on 1 October 2002. The third main area pushed by the EC
is the rather more controversial area of temporary workers.

The
proposed rules

The
EC wishes to set up a mechanism whereby temporary workers on all but the
shortest assignments receive no less favourable treatment –  in terms of pay, working time and holidays,
maternity and discrimination issues – than comparable workers in the place in
which they work. The proposal would allow unequal treatment if that was
objectively justified, the temp has a permanent contract with his or her
agency, there was an applicable collective agreement with an adequate level of
protection, or the assignment could be accomplished in six weeks or less, due
to its duration or nature. The proposal also seeks to ban any prohibition on
businesses employing temps permanently, and any fees which employment agencies
might charge if this happens. Businesses will also be obliged to give temps
full information about permanent work opportunities and give them access to
what the proposal calls the ‘social services’, which could possibly mean health
cover, as well as health and safety and social matters.

The
business reaction

The
EC seeks to justify the directive on the basis that it will improve the sector
and thus stimulate demand. The commission is also focused on liberalising the
regime for temp workers across Europe, where, unlike the UK, it is not
widespread and in some cases (eg Greece) is banned altogether.

Businesses
say demand for temps will plummet due to the increased red tape and costs (DTI
estimates it to be up to £380m a year for UK business). Existing permanent
staff are likely to bear the brunt, as they are likely to be asked to work more
flexibly and harder to cover with fewer temps being taken on. Businesses want a
much longer exclusion period than six weeks, and are questioning whether Europe
even has the power under the Treaty of Rome to effectively give temps pay rises.

The
arguments will continue in the coming months.

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