From 1st October 2011, the new regulations to protect agency and temporary workers finally come into force.
Though the UK implementation of this EU Directive falls far short of the protection workers need, it can improve the position significantly – if workers organise to take advantage of it.
The treatment of agency workers is an important issue for all of us. If the workforce is divided, with people doing the same job having different rights, it allows unscrupulous employers to undermine pay and conditions for everyone.
Many employers have used agencies to give workers less in terms of pay, holidays, pensions, overtime etc. Some keep staff employed through agencies for long periods to deprive them of job security and divide the workforce.
UNITE wants a “levelling up” of rights so that everyone is treated fairly at work.
The new rights
The “Agency Worker Regulations 2010” cover people who are workers of an agency (e.g. Kelly’s), but not self-employed people who get work through an agency.
The central new right (after 12 weeks in the same job) is to equal treatment on pay, holidays and working time, compared to a (real or hypothetical) direct employee – what the worker would have had if employed directly to do the job. The rights cover:
- Basic hourly rate, wages, holiday pay, overtime, unsocial hours payments, vouchers, bonuses and individual performance related pay, but NOT occupational pensions, workplace sick pay, redundancy pay, maternity or paternity pay, time off for union duties or training, expenses, financial participation schemes or corporate performance related pay (e.g. Sharing In Success)
- All holiday pay (not just statutory), ability to take leave, bank holiday pay, right to work (or not to work) on bank holidays
- Rest breaks / periods, overtime and overtime pay, night work, preferred shift patterns, pay for travel to work time
- Only conditions ordinarily included in contracts, such as collective agreements, staff handbooks, custom & practice
From day-one, agency workers have some rights in relation to pregnancy & maternity, equal access to collective facilities (e.g. canteens, childcare, rest rooms). In addition agency workers must be informed of vacancies in the hirer’s workplace. Of course all workers have rights under H&S legislation.
Using the new rights
Agency workers are encouraged to join and participate in the union. Union membership is confidential – neither the agency nor Fujitsu needs to know whether you are a member.
Unions should aim for equal treatment for agency workers, which in turn helps encourage employers to give permanent direct employment rather than using agencies.
To secure equal treatment, it can be important to ensure that agency workers are included in standard appraisal processes, and use the same holiday requesting and recording systems.
There is a separate piece of legislation called the Conduct Regulations which covers agencies. This says that before the start of each assignment, every agency worker must receive a copy of a written agreement detailing a range of information including notice periods, expected/actual rates of pay for each assignment, holiday rights etc.
Reps in recognised workplaces will have rights to information from the employer on the number, location and type of work done by agency workers, information for bargaining purposes, and for consultation on redundancies and TUPE transfers. Where essential for bargaining, recognised unions will have a right to disclosure on agency workers’ pay and conditions, and the cost of the contract with the agency.
Workers should treat the law as the minimum, and aim higher. This could mean pushing for “day one” equal treatment, including more items in equal treatment (e.g. sick pay, pensions, redundancy), inclusion in grievance/disciplinary procedures, pushing for automatic permanent employment after a fixed period, or limits on the numbers of agency workers.