Page last updated at 15:06 GMT, Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Equal rights bid for agency staff

There are about 1.3 million agency workers in the UK

Agency workers will get the same rights as directly employed staff after 12 weeks in a job, under government plans.

The proposals, outlined in the Queen's Speech, means these employees will have the right to equal treatment on pay, holidays and other basic conditions.

A recent TUC report claimed agency workers felt discriminated against, abused and treated as second class employees.

The new regulations could come into force by October 2011.

Holiday pay

There are an estimated 1.3 million agency workers in the UK and the government has been consulting on ways to offer greater working rights equality.

Temporary staff are already covered by all key employment rights and protected by health and safety and discrimination legislation
Stephen Robertson, British Retail Consortium

In the TUC poll of 2,700 agency workers, nearly half said they got less holiday entitlement than permanent staff. One in three said they earned less than directly employed staff for doing the same work and three quarters said they were entitled to less redundancy pay.

The government has been keen not to jeopardise the flexibility these temporary workers offer the UK labour market.

Under the new plans these workers will be given equal rights after 12 weeks. Other benefits that will be offered from the first day of employment include:

  • Information about job vacancies where they are working
  • Equal access to facilities such as childcare and transport
  • Rights for working mothers, such as time to attend ante-natal appointments and parent-friendly working hours.

The agency providing the workers will have the responsibility to ensure they are being treated fairly but, under the proposals, would have a defence if they had taken reasonable steps to find out about the working conditions.

Agency workers can ask the agency first for information about equal rights, and subsequently the employer who is hiring them. Both have 28 days to respond.

But the proposals have been criticised by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) which said that "prohibitive costs" would deter companies from using agency workers and 12-week contracts would become the norm.

"Retailers support protecting workers' rights but temporary staff are already covered by all key employment rights and protected by health and safety and discrimination legislation," said Stephen Robertson, BRC director general.

"The UK currently has an excellent reputation for its flexible labour market making it an attractive place for companies to invest and create jobs. These proposals will damage this status."

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