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Monday, 18 February, 2002, 11:01 GMT
Q&A: Your rights as a temp
A leaked EU proposal suggests companies might be forced to end differences in pay and benefits rates between temporary and permanent workers.

Business leaders have said the proposed rights could be damaging "to all concerned" while unions have said temporary workers deserve greater rights.

So what are your rights if you're a temp? BBC News Online explains.

The UK has almost two million temporary workers. According to the TUC, almost half of them get paid less than permanent staff. Many also miss out on a range of benefits, such as pensions, automatically given to permanent staff.

And while there is some protection for temporary workers, many do not have access to sick leave or holiday pay.

Are temps entitled to paid holiday?

Every worker, including those who work on a temporary basis or on a fixed-term contract, is entitled to 20 days holiday (including bank holidays) each year from their employer.

Holiday entitlements for part-time workers should be pro-rated according to the number of hours worked each week.

Under old rules, people could not start "earning" time-off until they had worked for 13 weeks.

However, since 25 October 2001 and following a European court ruling, workers can start earning paid leave from day one.

The rule was changed after it was argued that some bosses were trying to avoid offering paid leave by giving their workers a series of 13-week contracts.

If you work for an agency, the agency is your employer not the company you work for on a day-to-day basis. You must claim from them.

What about pay rates and training?

Another right shared by all workers is that they must be paid at least the minimum wage of 3.70 an hour (3.20 if you are 21 or under). This rises to 4.10 from 1 October 2001 if you are 22 years or older and to 3.50 an hour if you are 21 or under.

People who are required to operate heavy machinery or handle dangerous substances, should get proper training if this is a legal requirement.

Workers must also not be discriminated against because of their race, sex, or a disability.

Under European "Working Time" regulations, you should not work more than 48 hours each week unless you have agreed to do so.

What happens if I am pregnant?

The situation is not so good for temporary workers who are pregnant.

Katie Wood, information officer of the Maternity Alliance, says: "We have always had a lot of enquiries about agency workers. Some agencies are very good and they know that they are entitled to maternity pay.

"But maternity rights are very complicated to work out."

The rules mean that women who are temporary workers can get maternity pay, but they are not entitled to maternity leave.

This is because there is no obligation for the company they are working for under a short-term contract to give them 18 weeks statutory leave and keep the job open for them.

Instead, they must leave the company, and then return to look for new work once they have had their baby.

However, if you are an agency worker and paid through the payroll, you should qualify for maternity pay from your agency.

You must have earned more than the lower earnings limit of 72 a week, and have been working for the same employer for 26 weeks by the 15th week before your baby is due.

You will then be entitled to 18 weeks' maternity pay.

For the first six weeks this will be at 90% of your average earnings and then a flat rate payment of 62.50 for 12 weeks.

If you do not qualify for statutory maternity pay but fulfil the conditions for maternity allowance, you must claim from the Department for Work and Pensions.

You can claim a maternity allowance from the DWP if you have paid 26 weeks National Insurance contributions (Nics) in the 66 weeks before the expected week of birth.

You must tell your agency and the company where you work in writing that you are pregnant, but they can not sack you because of this reason.

Is there any provision for paternity leave?

Some companies provide paid paternity leave schemes, but there is no obligation for employers to do so.

But if you have been working for your employer for at least one year, parents have the right to take up to 13 weeks' unpaid leave per child up until its fifth birthday.

You can only take it in one-week blocks, with no more than four weeks off in anyone year for any one child.

The right applies to parents of children under five years old on 15 December 1999.

From 2003, employed fathers are expected to have two weeks' paid paternity leave at a flat rate of 100 a week.

Your rights vis-a-vis unfair dismissal

You can only claim unfair dismissal if you have worked continuously for the same company for one year.

However, there are about 20 caveats or loopholes for people who do not meet this criteria, which can help temporary workers.

These include pregnancy or if your boss is unwilling to provide an itemised payslip.

The criteria are outlined in (PL712 Rev 16) on the Department of Trade and Industry's website.

The position on pensions and sick pay

Temporary staff are not entitled to pay or pensions equal to those offered to permanent staff.

The TUC wants the government to include these benefits within a European Union directive, the Fixed-term Contracts Directive, which it must introduce by next year.

Everyone is entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) if they have been contributing towards national insurance and have been sick for at least four days in a row including weekends and bank holidays.

However, the rates are paltry in comparison to full pay offered to permanent staff you are working alongside.

Further information

If you require further information about your rights at work, contact:

  • The Department for Trade and Industry's Employment (Agency Standards Line): 0845 9555105.

  • The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC): 020 7462 3260

  • Health and Safety Executive (advice on pregnancy/maternity and health and safety) : 0541 545500

  • National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux: 020 7833 2181

  • Employment Tribunal Service Enquiry Line: 0345 959775

  • Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS): via its website (see internet links, top right)

See also:

18 Feb 02 | Business
Bosses warn against rights for temps
12 Dec 00 | Business
Microsoft settles 'permatemp' case
20 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Ministers risk new union battle
31 Jul 01 | Education
McDonald's fined for under-age jobs
13 Aug 01 | Business
Women still paid less than men
07 Aug 01 | Business
Bitchy bosses go to boot camp
27 Mar 01 | Business
Womens' equal pay 'champions'
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