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Agreement reached on agency workers

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The government has agreed a deal between unions and employers that will allow UK agency workers to receive equal treatment after 12 weeks of employment.

Announcing the news today (Tuesday), business secretary John Hutton said that this is the right deal for Britain. “Today’s agreement achieves our twin objectives of flexibility for British employers and fairness for workers. It will give people a fair deal at work without putting their jobs at risk or cutting off a valuable route into employment.”

The government added that the deal can pave the way to reaching agreement on an agency workers directive in Europe that secures this flexibility for the UK.

In the lead up to this announcement, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) reached a compromise on how fairer treatment for agency workers in the UK should be promoted.

John Cridland, CBI deputy director-general, said: “There has been a major risk of damaging legislation coming from Brussels, and the CBI has judged that the government’s proposals represent the least worst outcome available for British business.”

He added that half of agency assignments will be unaffected as they last less than 12 weeks – protecting businesses’ ability to deal with peaks and troughs in demand and shorter-term staff absences.

“Critically, as well as enabling the European directive on agency work to be put to bed, this agreement should allow the retention of the working hours opt-out from the working time directive, which is equally vital to the future of the British economy.”

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said that the agreement is a victory for union campaigning. “The issue of agency workers has been crying out for attention for far too long. Too many agency workers in the UK face unfair treatment and injustice.”

Serious risk

However, the CIPD has stated that this “poses a serious risk” to UK jobs. Mike Emmott, employee relations adviser at the CIPD, said: “It is a shame that the government has ditched the sensible proposal to set up an independent commission to examine plans to extend agency worker rights. Our research shows significant employer resistance to a qualifying period of less than six months, so the government’s intention to push for 12 weeks seems bound to cause a great detail of unhappiness amongst employers.

“Agency workers play a valuable role in the UK’s flexible labour market. Undermining this flexibility poses a serious risk to UK jobs, and risks blocking an important pathway into work for many jobless people.”

Meanwhile, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has labelled the agreement as a disaster. Tina Sommer, FSB EU and international affairs chairman, said this is the last thing that small businesses need: “This is a disastrous deal for small businesses, which rely on the flexibility provided by agency workers.

“Part of the reason for the UK’s relative economic success in the past decade has been the flexibility of its workforce. This deal could put all that at risk at the worst possible time.”

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