The UK agency workers regulations: an opportunity to organise

Temps: not quite yet equal

A blog entry about the new laws giving agency staff some equal rights with permanent staff, and how we can use them to improve our conditions and build solidarity in the workplace.

On 1 October 2011, as a result of a European directive, the agency workers regulations came into force in the UK.

The regulations basically state that in some key respects workers employed through an agency for more than 12 weeks should not be treated unfavourably compared to the workers at the original employer.

These areas include pay, annual leave, health and safety, breaks and limits on work time, protection under the equality act unlawful deductions from wages. I have attached a helpful union briefing on these regulations below.

Importantly, many big areas are completely omitted, such as pension entitlements, paid sick leave, job security and protection from unfair dismissal, etc. So these regulations do not give equal rights to agency workers by any means. But they do offer a possibility to improve the pay and conditions for some of the most precarious of the working class.

And of particular interest to us, as workers and libertarian communists, they give us the opportunity to organise with our co-workers to improve our conditions and build links and solidarity between us. Because even though this is now the law, most employers will not properly implement them without a push from their workers.

If you are an agency worker, or you work somewhere where there are agency workers, here are some suggestions for things to do in your workplace:

  • Find out who the agency workers are and talk to them about their new rights.
  • Produce a leaflet or poster detailing the hourly pay, including annual leave entitlement, for permanent workers in your organisation so that agency workers can easily compare them.
  • For long term agency workers don't forget to include other perks permanent workers may receive such as bonuses, performance related pay increases or annual increments or cost-of-living pay rises.
  • Talk to permanent workers at your workplace, informing them about the legislation, and explaining to them how the legislation will also help them. Firstly if they ever become agency workers in future, and secondly as it helps remove the incentive for employers to replace permanent staff with temps.
  • If agency workers are afraid of victimisation or dismissal, see if a group of permanent workers (or the union if there is one of your work) will raise claims on their behalf. Try to show management that permanent workers are in support of their agency colleagues in making the claim.
  • Ask your employer for details of use of agency workers across the organisation. Try to make contact with workers in other departments to see that the new regulations are followed across the whole organisation.
  • Ask your employer to treat agency workers equally from day one, rather than waiting 12 weeks. If they say no try to have a meeting with your co-workers to see if they are prepared to do anything to push this demand.
  • While doing all this, try to keep your eyes open for workers who are particularly interested, who may be key allies in future organising efforts.
  • Finally, be careful. Especially if you are in your first year of employment (and so not well protected from unfair dismissal) try not to out yourself as a "troublemaker" to your employer if you believe they may be vindictive.

I'm doing some of this stuff now, so will report back how it goes. We have a union at my work, so through the union we are requesting evidence that there is equal pay. While on some grades I know staff appear to be equally paid, as permanent employees of the council we have more than the statutory minimum days annual leave, whereas the agency workers do not. So we need to raise that as well.

What are other peoples thoughts on this? Have I missed anything out? What is the situation in your workplaces?

AttachmentSize
Agency Workers Directive Factsheet.doc125 KB

Comments

Chilli Sauce
Jan 12 2012 16:58

Thanks for this Steven. NL SolFed have already created a presentation on the new agency worker rights, which one of our members has already given to their workmates. I'll be glad to send it along to anyone who PMs me. Steven, I'll email it to you directly.

Kronstadt_Kid
Jan 12 2012 23:55

I want to hear more about the 'anti-avoidance' measures mentioned in the UNISON leaflet.

My plan is simply to walk into the agency office with my mates to make sure we will be payed what we deserve.

Steven.
Jan 13 2012 00:32
Kronstadt_Kid wrote:
I want to hear more about the 'anti-avoidance' measures mentioned in the UNISON leaflet.

My plan is simply to walk into the agency office with my mates to make sure we will be payed what we deserve.

That's interesting. I'd been working on the assumption that you would just ask the local employer, not the agency, as they seem to be the ones this legislation is aimed at. Certainly that's what we'll be doing at my work (at my work the agency fees are all fixed at a certain percentage of the worker's wage). It could be that in some places a different approach would be better I guess.

Kronstadt_Kid
Jan 13 2012 09:30

The SolFed presentation says that the cost of providing equal treatment falls to the employment agency, not the hirer.

Steven.
Jan 13 2012 09:59
Kronstadt_Kid wrote:
The SolFed presentation says that the cost of providing equal treatment falls to the employment agency, not the hirer.

looking into it more, the law says that either the agency or the employee can be responsible, depending on who it is responsible for the unequal treatment.

However, it is correct that for the agency worker it should be the agency they write to first. I will update my blog post and attach a more detailed briefing from the TUC
http://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace/tuc-20147-f0.pdf

Kronstadt_Kid
Jan 26 2012 10:40

"Norwegian trade unions launched a general strike on Wednesday against the government's planned implementation of the EU Temporary and Agency Workers Directive into national law..."

Is this the same law we are discussing here? - http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news/content/view/full/114393

Steven.
Jan 26 2012 11:01
Kronstadt_Kid wrote:
"Norwegian trade unions launched a general strike on Wednesday against the government's planned implementation of the EU Temporary and Agency Workers Directive into national law..."

Is this the same law we are discussing here? - http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news/content/view/full/114393

that's really interesting!

Yes, it is the same law. But you can see reading more into it that in the UK this represents an advance for workers, but in Norway it represents an attack on workers, as it looks like this regulation will effectively replace previous laws which place strict restrictions on the use of agency workers. So in Norway permanent employment is the norm, by law, whereas in the UK this is not the case.

Chilli Sauce
Jan 26 2012 19:29

That's really interesting, thanks for that KK.

Kronstadt_Kid
Jan 26 2012 20:08

... I looked into the 'anti-avoidance measures', these seem to be trying to prevent the possibility of companies 'redeploying' workers, so they would still be working for the same company but under a different job title for example.

... Story I heard at work - Agency workers taken on in summer knew about this new law, company got them to sign a new contract (think they thought this would entitle them to better pay) but in effect it has made them miss out on the pay equality as it is a new contract... Will try and find out more after my days off.

I asked one of my union reps about this new law and how it would effect us, he simply said that he didn't really know anything about it, lol.

Kronstadt_Kid
Jan 28 2013 15:28

I now work in processing for a major biscuit manufacturer. To counter these laws the company lowered the basic wage of 'ordinary' workers to minimum wage.

At the moment it seems that after 12 weeks most agency workers are offered a six month temporary contract that is still completely minimum wage. After this six month temporary contract people hope to get a 'proper' contract which would include shift allowance and other rights.

Also, I believe the owner of the agency is the brother of the guy in charge of the the corporation that owns the factory.