For several years the UK Government blocked the Agency Workers Directive within the EU (much like it does the Working Time Directive to this day). Finally last year a compromise was reached and the Directive is due to come into law soon although Bosses groups are seeking to delay it until 2011 (the latest date by which the Directive must be implemented).
Business Minister Pat McFadden has described the agreement that was reached between the CBI and TUC in May 2008 as "a commitment to equal treatment for agency workers" – which will apply after 12 weeks continuous employment.
Good news at first sight. Yet the Minister frames the consultation by stating that "in these challenging economic times it is even more important that in implementing this Directive we avoid unnecessary costs and burdens for business".
Already we can see attempts to suggest exemptions and limitations. There is no mention of pension entitlement or sick pay. The Association of Recruitment Consultancies (ARC) has proposed that agency workers who earn one-and-a-half times the minimum wage should not be covered by the directive for the first year of their assignment!
One of the exemptions the Government proposes in their consultation is jobseekers engaged in 'welfare-to-work' programmes, otherwise the Directive could undermine the Government's new workfare policies, which could see claimants working for £1.73 per hour just to keep their benefits. This programme is ill-conceived in our view.
Unions also need to ensure also that agency workers are not discarded after 11 weeks and a new group of agency workers hired to replace them.
Solidarity General Secretary, Pat Harrington, commented:-
"It is predictable that Bosses and the Government are seeking to devise schemes to limit the effects of the Directive. They don't want agency workers to have real rights. They want a 'flexible' workforce with few rights that can be easily exploited. We must do all we can to ensure that Agency workers gain rights. Britain has an unusual number of agency workers in comparison with other parts of the EU. This isn't a happenstance. It is a policy aimed at undermining the power of organised labour and exploiting individuals."