OPPORTUNITIES for permanent employment in many industries across the UK are very scarce at the moment.
RecentŠunemployment levels for the UK stand at 7.9% for the last quarter – with the Yorkshire region faring significantly worse than the national average.
For those seeking paid work, agency work can provide a short-term answer to an individual’s unemployment. Currently, agency (or “temporary”) workers do not automatically receive the same rights or statutory protection that an employee would benefit from. Under the Working Time Regulations, agency workers are entitled to benefits such as paid holiday and minimum rest periods and workers are also protected by the national minimum wage regulations.
Currently, however, there is no provision in UK legislation for equal treatment for agency workers. There is nothing to stop an employer giving agency workers much less favourable terms than its full-time workforce. Perhaps this, in part, is why agency workers are so appealing to a company. If there is short-term demand for workers, why not take on an agency worker; there is no need for an employment contract, there is no liability for dismissal of the worker and the terms can differ from the full time employees?
There is a cloud on the horizon for businesses, however, and once again it has emerged from the European Union. As a result of the recently enacted Agency Workers Directive, the UK is now required to implement this by way of Regulations by December, 2011.
These Regulations will allow agency workers who have worked with the same company for a 12-week period to benefit from the same rights and equal treatment as the permanent employees. “Equal treatment” refers to the same rates of basic pay, annual leave entitlements, overtime rates, break entitlements, participation in any bonus or commission schemes and any other additional benefits that are enjoyed by permanent employees under their contract of employment.
So what effect will this have on the future of agency workers? The response from businesses is, on the whole, far from optimistic. According to recent research, 81% of 134 organisations questioned opposed the Directive. Some 75% agree that equal rights should be awarded to agency workers, but after 26 weeks instead of 12. It is estimated that up to 50,000 agency workers could be at risk of losing temporary work, with up to 250 recruitment agencies facing extinction.
Many businesses are already looking at creative ways of avoiding the Directive. There is a growing trend of companies creating their own “internal agency” that acts as a “relief bank of workers”. The business would have a large list of individuals who will work on an ‘as and when’ basis (commonly known as ‘casuals’) and the business will avoid having to use employment agencies, therefore.
Further consultation is expected on how the Directive will be implemented, but it is surely only a matter of time before agency workers are given the protection that will no doubt make them a less attractive proposition to many businesses.