Groups of up to 100 workers stand in line outside at dawn to see if the boss will pick them to work for the day. This is not a scene from the beginning of the last century – but the reality of being a local authority worker in the 21st century.
Agency workers for Salford council are forced to turn up at 5.30am to find out if they can have work for the day.
Agency worker Barry Lancett said he had been turning up for work at the refuse, recycling and street sweeping depot for five months.
Barry told Socialist Worker, “It could be an hour, it could be five hours waiting to be picked. If you don’t get picked then they say, ‘Right, there’s no work.’ They pick you out of a line-up.”
The 100 agency workers, who are members of the T&G union, are called to a depot at Turnpike House in Eccles New Road to find out if they are needed to either drive bin wagons or pick up the bags.
Drivers not selected are sent home with a “stand-by” payment of £20 a day. Labourers who are not picked only get £10.
When the workers do get work they don’t have the same benefits as full-time staff. Barry is paid £6.75 an hour as an agency worker, while a worker employed directly by the council doing the same job earns £8.49.
Jane Whittaker, a driver of a sweeper vehicle, said, “I’ve worked as agency staff for the council for three years. We have no equality, no equal pay, and no equal sickness pay with full-time staff.
“It’s a case of having to manage. I’ve just had to tighten my belt. I’ve learnt I’ll just have to do without a holiday and I’ve worked through any illnesses I’ve had.
“I’ve looked for other employment, but it’s all agency work and I don’t want to have to work for another agency.”
The T&G said some staff had worked for Salford for up to four years without being given a full-time contract or any job security.
Neil Clarke from the T&G said, “It is shameful that Salford council has allowed this discriminatory two-tier workforce.
“All these workers are doing the same jobs and all of them are providing a service to Salford people. They should receive the same pay and conditions.
“The practice of workers having to wait in a group to see who is picked for work that day is more like Salford Docks in the 1930s. Surely it should not be happening in Salford council in the 21st century.”
Local authorities now only employ around one-third of the workforce directly.
The public sector has increased its share of agency workers from 19 percent to 23 percent over the last six years.
For instance, some 32 percent of care workers in the public sector are long-term agency workers, compared to 2 percent in 2003.
Workers from ethnic minority groups are more likely to be engaged in agency work. Some 20 percent of agency workers are from ethnic minorities, compared with 13 percent of temporary workers as a whole and 8 percent of all employees.
Since 1992, casual work has increased by a third and the use of agency workers has more than doubled in the education and health sectors.
TUC research has found that agency staff are paid 80p for every pound paid to permanent staff doing a similar level of job.
Many agency workers are denied sick, holiday and overtime pay. Agency workers have no security of tenure and can be dismissed at any time.
A series of recent employment tribunal cases have found that workers could not take a case for unfair dismissal against either a council or an employment agency as neither were technically the workers’ employer.
In one case last month Justice Bean commented that “the state of the law regarding the status of long term agency workers is, in my view, far from satisfactory”.
The Labour government disagrees. It blocked a new law backed by all the major unions to provide employment protection for agency workers earlier this month.