A new European Directive
intended to give additional employment rights to agency
workers could cost the UK over 160,000 temporary assignments,
according to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).
Agency temps account for 3.1%
of the UK workforce - around 770,000 temporary assignments at
any one time. For the most part agency temps are used by
companies to cope with fluctuations in demand, or to cover for
staff absence. Employment conditions vary: those engaged via the
top agencies may already enjoy employment conditions that are
better than current statutory requirements.
The aim of the European
Agency Workers Directive, however, is to create parity between
the working conditions and benefits of temporary workers and
permanently employed ones. It is a continuation of the policy of
creating parity for all "atypical" workers (as has been
implemented for part-time workers).
The Directive proposes that
there should be equal treatment of permanent and agency workers
in respect of:
The UK government agrees with
the principle of protecting the rights of temporary workers, but
feels the minimum wage and working time directive have gone a
long way to achieving this.
According to the Department
for Trade and Industry (DTI):
"Agency work can provide a
useful way in to the labour market, particularly permanent jobs,
for workers. It can increase labour market flexibility in ways
which benefit both business and workers. It can also offer
workers who want to control or vary their patterns of work
greater choice than permanent work. The Commission claims that
the proposal would make temporary agency work more attractive to
those looking for work and increase its status.
"However, there is a risk
that the proposal could decrease the attractiveness of
agency workers to user companies, which might reduce the number
of jobs available".
The recognition that many
people prefer to work on temporary and/or agency contracts is an
important one. It may be that such a way of working is
preferable at a certain stage in one's life, due to family or
other responsibilities. Or it may be the best way of acquiring
new skills and moving into a different sector of work, and a new
Ruth Hounslow, public affairs
manager for Manpower, the largest agency, puts forward the view
from inside the industry:
"Manpower has always
supported the principle of protecting agency workers' rights.
However, we don't believe the Directive as it is currently
framed does this. It is based on the assumption that permanent
full time work is what everyone wants: it isn't. People do
agency work because it gives them choice, develops transferable
skills and enhances work/life balance. The directive could limit
UK productivity by making it more bureaucratic and costly to use
flexible staffing solutions. Employers will be far less able to
flex their workforce to meet changes in their business."
The CBI surveyed UK companies to see how they
would respond to the Directive if it were implemented. They
found that 57% of companies who use agency workers would reduce
the numbers they take on. 10% said they would stop using them
altogether. But only 1% of employers said they would replace
temporary staff with permanent ones, raising fears of job
While this survey may represent employer
attitudes accurately, it is unlikely to be a reliable indicator
of their staffing strategies, as they would be left without
enough staff to do the work.
The DTI is currently
consulting on the proposal. Responses should be submitted by
18 October 2002.