British labour law fails to protect agency workers, and many face discrimination in the workplace.
Agency workers are paid much less than their directly employed counterparts. They are not entitled to sick pay. They can be laid off – often after many years of work – without notice. They are not entitled to proper holidays.
On Tuesday a parliamentary committee debated plans to amend regulations governing employment agencies.
The government is promising to give agency workers the right to withdraw from services provided by an agency, such as accommodation and transport, without suffering any losses.
Pat McFadden, minister of state for employment relations, claims, “These measures are practical steps to tackle the bad practices that can affect the most vulnerable agency workers.”
More in keeping with neoliberalism, the government is also proposing to cut back on the “burden” on employment agencies by ending their requirement to provide information regarding jobs that last less than five days.
The real attitude of New Labour to agency workers was shown last week when Gordon Brown’s government blocked attempts at a European level to establish rights for agency workers.
The proposed EU directive on temporary and agency workers was narrowly defeated at a meeting of employment ministers in Brussels last Wednesday, with the British government leading the opposition.
The directive would have forced employers to offer the same pay, holiday and pension entitlements to temporary and permanent staff after six weeks of employment.
Tony Dubbins, of the Unite union and chair of the Trade Union & Labour Party Liaison Organisation (TULO), said that the government’s “blocking position is neither sustainable nor excusable. There is simply no justification for a Labour government to deny agency and temporary workers the same rights as directly employed staff.”
Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, said, “What is most depressing today is to listen to ministers endorse the business argument that the UK economy can only succeed by having fewer rights for its employees than its competitors.”
Legislation to change this was promised in the Warwick Agreement – the 2004 pact between Labour and the unions – and backed by both Labour and the TUC Conference in 2006. There will to be another attempt to propose a private members’ bill on agency workers rights early next year.
Last time the bill came up for discussion, former union official Jim Fitzpatrick used parliamentary procedure to stop it being discussed.