The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) has criticised the TUC with the following:
The Government is currently considering how to best implement the Fixed Term Workers Directive. The TUC’s press release in relation to this has somewhat broadened and blurred the issue in relation to temporary workers and contains a number of misleading statements that should not go unchallenged. In particular the assertion that unionised work forces have better terms and conditions is extremely misleading; the TUC’s own press release acknowledges that IT contract workers enjoy high salaries and good conditions and are likely to be non unionised. The same could be said for many other categories of temporary and contract workers.
It is not in the interests of agencies for agency workers to be exploited or for them to enjoy less protection that other workers; but sometimes, due to the unique characteristics of the ‘triangular relationship’ between agency, agency worker and user, there must be variation in the way that protective measures are implemented. Agency work is not ‘second best’ employment; it is an attractive, flexible alternative to a permanent job.
The specific inaccuracies are as follows:
- The TUC has glossed over the fact that the Government has complied with the requirements of the Fixed Term Workers Directive as pay and pensions are excluded at European level from the scope of the Directive.
- There is a separate Directive being drafted specifically to cover Agency workers so that is why the Fixed Term one does not cover them. In addition, the Government is now finalising a new UK Employment Agencies Act, which is also specifically to cover Agency workers. How many more “new laws” can possibly be needed?
- The sample size of 200 unionised workplaces is likely to be biased towards public sector terms and conditions, which differ from the private sector quite significantly for permanent staff as well as temporary staff. Many permanent private sector workers do not receive the conditions referred to either, such as lengthy contractual sick pay entitlements, extended annual leave, and generous final salary occupational pensions.
- Stakeholder pensions are an alternative to occupational pension schemes and will be ideal for those on temporary contracts where final salary schemes are usually impractical.
- All workers have a basic level of rights guaranteed by the Working Time Directive, which covers hours and annual leave. No temporary or agency worker receives less than 20 days leave per annum.
- All temporary staff who pay sufficient National Insurance receive SSP and SMP.
The fact remains that for many people agency work is their first choice as it fits in with their lifestyle and work/life balance. For some it is the only choice for paid employment. Many agency workers are not seeking a permanent job and receive better packages than permanent employees in a similar role. Many teachers, doctors and nurses prefer agency working despite the claims made by the TUC.
This press release appears to be saying that everybody should be in a permanent job in a unionised environment, and that anything else is second best. That is a very dated and blinkered attitude. Employers and workseekers need a flexible and accessible labour market, with equal opportunities for all. Excessive regulation is no way to respond to those needs.