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Temps could miss out on equal rights


Temporary workers in the UK, including working students and college staff on temporary contracts, could miss out on equal rights if the Government waters down the implementation of the EU Fixed-Term Contracts Directive, warns a new TUC report.

Although the Government plans to comply with the 1999 Directive by next July, the TUC and the National Union of Students (NUS) are worried that equal treatment on pay and pensions may be excluded. The TUC and NUS also want new laws to cover the increasing number of agency workers.

There are 1.7 million people in the UK on temporary contracts, ‘casuals’ or agency workers, that’s 7% of the UK’s total workforce. Sixteen percent of temporary workers are now agency workers, compared with just 7% eight years ago. According to Government figures, nearly two-thirds of students work during the academic year while a further four in five work during the summer vacation.

In a survey of almost 200 unionised workplaces (who tend to have better terms and conditions), the TUC found:

  • 50% pay temporary workers on different pay rates compared with permanent workers (47% get less and just 3% get more)
  • 70% do not offer the same access to occupational pension schemes
  • 25% do not give access to contractual sick leave to temporary workers
  • 14% do not give holiday pay to temporary workers

The TUC survey, Permanent Rights for Temporary Workers, reveals some of the biggest growth sectors for temporary work are in banking and finance, hotels and restaurants, further and higher education, transport and tourism.

The TUC found that 82% of workplaces surveyed had increased the number of people employed on temporary contracts in the last ten years.Reasons given for use of temporary workers include:

  • changing demand, including seasonal fluctuation (56%)
  • cost-cutting (22%)
  • deliberate management decisions to increase the ratio of temporary staff (20%)

Temporary workers are more likely to be:

  • women (54%)
  • part-time workers (47%)
  • under 30 (44%)
  • from ethnic minorities (11%)

John Monks, TUC General Secretary, said: ‘Many working students are getting a raw deal. Students are not alone in casual working to get extra money but unfortunately, they are also not alone in being paid less than people doing the same job.’

Owain James, NUS President, said: ‘Students today leave university around £15,000 in debt. However the real cost of gaining a degree is closer to £24,000. Following the abolition of grants students that cannot rely on their parents for support have to find that extra money from somewhere. 90% of students now work at some point during their degree, as well as having a detrimental affect on their studies many students find themselves being exploited.’

Case studies:

Bethany Baume, is a typical student worker . Half way through a degree at Plymouth University, she returned home for the summer to help ease her overdraft. She worked part time as a retail assistant in a high street clothes shop. She has no access to sick pay and her paid holiday entitlement is included in her basic pay. She says: ‘I can’t afford any time off. If I’m sick I just have to go in. I won’t be taking any time off for holidays because I need the extra money.’

Jean Whitehouse, works as a course manager at a university . She has been on a series of short-term contracts for the last three years and her current contract is due to expire just as daughter goes to university. She has decided to freeze her pension in order to save for her daughter’s education. She says: ‘I’ve got to put my daughter first.’ She has been unable to get a mortgage from a high street lender and says: ‘I live with the threat of repossession should my income dry up.’

Dave Turnbull is a union (T&G) officer covering Park Lane hotel workers , many of whom are employed as temps, paid less than permanent staff, have no overtime premiums, no sick pay and no pension scheme. They are too frightened to speak out about their treatment. Dave says: ‘I have one member who has worked as a banqueting waiter for 23 years, doing 40-50 hour weeks, and he is still treated as a casual worker. We do what we can to get them better conditions but without legally enforceable rights they are just an hour away from being laid off.’

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