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?