Agency Worker reforms go ahead

Working Time Directive

The European Parliament has agreed to an EU directive which will give temporary workers the same employment rights as permanent staff.

Working Time Directive

The directive will give agency staff equal employment rights after 12 weeks on the job. This means they would receive equal pay and holiday entitlements, as well as the right to regular work breaks. However, temporary workers will be exempt from certain benefits, including sick pay and pensions.

EU member states now have three years to implement the directive, but the UK Government has promised to act quickly by introducing draft legislation in early 2009.

The UK has accepted the EU directive in return for being allowed to retain its opt–out from the Working Time Directive, including the 48–hour working week.

According to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), the agreement will reduce flexibility and increase costs for small firms. FSB EU and international affairs chairman Tina Sommer said:

“Part of the reason for the UK’s relative economic success in the past decade has been the flexibility of its workforce. This deal could put all that at risk at the worst possible time.”

“Agency fees and high hourly rates mean temporary workers, far from being seen as cheap labour, are already a costly but useful way of responding to fluctuations in demand,” she added. “If that flexibility is lost, many small businesses will stop using temporary employees.”

British Chambers of Commerce spokesman, Sam Turvey, said:

“Employers are going to think ‘we can’t afford to take on temporary staff’, even if they are reliant on short–term workers to fill gaps.”

“Temporary staff should be granted equal rights only after six months of employment, not 12 weeks, which is a relatively short period of time,” he added.

Employment relations minister Pat McFadden called the agreement a “fair deal” for agency workers, and said the measures were flexible enough for businesses wanting to hire short–term staff.

“There will be a detailed consultation on the UK implementation of the Directive and we will look to avoid unnecessary burdens and costs for business,” he said.

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