The harsh reality of proposed temps law

With 71 per cent of employers saying they would be damaged by the EU draft
Agency Workers Directive, Ben Willmott analyses our exclusive research

This month the European Parliament will vote on the Agency Workers
Directive, which seeks to provide temporary staff with the same pay and
conditions as permanent staff.

Personnel Today and Manpower’s recent survey of almost 1,000 employers
revealed that the majority are opposed to the directive.

Under the directive as drafted, agency workers would receive equal rights as
permanent staff after they have been employed for six weeks.

The research shows that more than 70 per cent of organisations think it will
damage their businesses through increased red tape and employment costs.


The study finds that agency staff in the UK are already well rewarded for
their efforts, with 45 per cent of firms revealing they pay their agency staff
the same as permanent staff and 23 per cent paying temps more than their
permanent employees.

Ruth Hounslow, director of public affairs for Manpower, said the survey
shows that temporary staff are not treated as second class employees.

"The fact that 68 per cent of employers are already paying their agency
staff as well as or better than permanent staff shows how highly they value their
flexible workforce," she said.

Only just over a quarter of respondents pay their agency staff less than the
rest of their workers.


However, the research reveals that agency staff are not so well rewarded in
terms of the benefits.

Half of the employers surveyed do not provide their temps with holiday pay,
while only 20 per cent of respondents provide agency staff with maternity
leave, 12 per cent paternity leave and 10 per cent pension provision.

Hounslow said Manpower offers its temps generous benefits such as maternity
pay and life insurance, but admits that many agencies need to do more in this

Length of assignment

The study finds that more than half of employers typically use temps for
longer than six weeks at a time and so would be hit by the draft agency workers
directive. As many as one million temps are available for work each day in the
UK, according to REC figures.

A quarter of organisations use agency staff for periods of between six weeks
and three months, 14 per cent of firms use them for periods of between three
months and six months and 8 per cent use agency employees for between six and
12 months.

A total of 3 per cent of respondents use temps for periods of between 12
months and 18 months and 2 per cent employ them for more than 18 months.

The research shows that 40 per cent of employers use agency employees for
six weeks or less; just over a quarter employ agency workers for between two
and six weeks and 15 per cent hire them for periods of up to two weeks.

According to the study the majority of employers think the draft directive’s
qualifying period should be extended beyond six weeks.

In all, 35 per cent report they would like to see the qualifying period
lengthened to three months, 22 per cent to six months and 18 per cent to a

Only 12 per cent of respondents think the qualifying period should remain at
six weeks and 9 per cent would like to see temps be given equal rights from day

Reasons for using temporary staff

The survey finds that temps are used by firms to fulfil a wide range of
essential business needs and make up a considerable chunk of the UK’s

Seven out of 10 organisations use agency staff to quickly make-up an
unpredicted shortfall in staff numbers and 56 per cent of respondents use temps
to staff short-term projects.

A large proportion of organisations use temporary staff to flex their
workforce as workloads fluctuate, with 46 of respondents highlighting this as a

In all, 12 per cent of organisations use agency staff to avoid the
administration of direct hiring and a similar proportion use temps for their
specialist skills.

Hounslow believes one of the reasons the UK employment climate is still so
healthy is because of the flexibility agency staff provide employers. "One
of the reasons we have not seen the widespread redundancies in the UK that we
might have done in the past is because of the increasing strength of the
flexible jobs market," she said.

Size of the agency worker market

Nearly half of the businesses surveyed report that temporary staff make up
between 1 and 2 per cent of their workforce.

A fifth of respondents reveal that temps represent between 3 and 5 per cent
of their employees.

In all, 9 per cent of employers report that agency staff make up 6 to 10 per
cent of their staff, while 7 per cent of respondents reveal temps represent
between 6 and 20 per cent of their workforce.

The future

Although the survey reveals the depth of concerns among UK employers about
the directive, it also indicates that most are not opposed to improving the
employment rights of agency staff on principle.

This was reinforced by a recent survey, which asked ‘do
temporary workers in the UK need more employment protection?’

In all 46 per cent of the 253 respondents voted ‘yes’.

But the six week qualification is the sticking point and must be extended to
one year’s continuous employment. The directive must be approved by the Council
of Ministers and go through a final vote at the European Parliament before it
is adopted this time next year at the earliest.

It will not become law in the UK for at least 18 months after that, but its
impact will be so significant that Personnel Today is determined to raise the
profile of the directive and ensure employers are aware of its implications.

Which benefits do you offer your temporary staff?

None                            50%
Holidays                       46%
Maternity leave             20%
Paternity leave              12%
Pension                        10%
Life assurance               3%
Health insurance           3%
Company car                2%
n/s                                2%
Stock options               0%

Comments are closed.