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Call for equal rights for agency workers

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Trade unions have launched a campaign to get the backing of 100 MPs to secure the passage of a private member’s bill which calls for equal rights for agency workers.

The Temporary Agency Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Bill is being brought by Paul Farrelly, the Labour MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme. It aims to give agency workers the same rights as directly-employed staff on issues including basic wages, sick and holiday pay.

UK unions believe that the bill will meet Labour’s commitment to ensure protection for temporary and agency workers. In the 2004 Warwick Agreement, Labour pledged to introduce domestic legislation to protect these workers should the EU fail to reach consensus on a European directive. It is now widely recognised that such a consensus is unlikely due to efforts by some governments – including the UK and Ireland – to maintain ‘flexibility’ in their labour markets.

The Transport and General Workers Union and Amicus are backing the private member’s bill and are asking their 200 affiliated MPs to help ensure it gets its second reading on 2 March. The trade unions are also asking the government to support the bill.

But the Recruitment and Employment Confederation has reacted with anger to the unions’ campaign, saying it’s little more than political point scoring.

REC’s external relations manager Tom Hadley said: “The trade unions aspire to the regulations in force in other countries yet the reality is, unemployment remains extremely high in many of these places and greater flexibility is increasingly being considered as a way to ease the problem.

“In its current form, the private member’s bill would damage the UK economy and British business and reduce the opportunities for temporary labour in the UK. The EU Agency Workers Directive has remained blocked since 2000 for good reasons.

“Vulnerable workers and preventing exploitation should be a priority; the best way of achieving this is by effectively enforcing current regulations rather than looking to score a political victory by introducing more.”

In its current format, the bill does throw up some anomalies – it would be an offence to discriminate against an agency worker directly but not indirectly, and the end user would be obliged to inform agency workers of any vacancies, not suitable vacancies.

What the bill does do is say that both the agency and the end user can dismiss an employee unfairly. This would clarify the current position where tribunals are struggling to decide if there is an implied contract between the agency worker and the end user or not.

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