Socialist Worker

Gordon Brown leads Europe in blocking agency workers’ rights

Issue No. 2102

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 any notice.

They are not entitled to proper holidays.

The Labour government has opposed agency workers’ rights in Europe and opposed a private member’s bill on the issue.

Gordon Brown’s administration is the only government in Europe to try and block rights for agency workers.

But it is under increasing pressure to back down.

Brown said last week, “It is not fair that even after months in the job, agency workers can currently be paid less than the staff they work alongside.”

Temporary workers may get some new pay rights after working for an employer for three months.

But the bosses’ CBI organisation is holding out for six months.

There is a vagueness to Brown’s current proposals.

The government is still pushing for a commission to drag out the process, and has not guaranteed full rights for agency workers.

At the European Union (EU) level Labour may stop blocking attempts to agree EU-wide rights for agency workers, but in return Brown is attempting to secure a permanent opt-out from the 48-hour working week laws.

Action to deliver agency and temporary workers’ rights had been promised to union leaders as part of the “Warwick Agreement” between the unions and the Labour Party.

The 2004 agreement saw Labour make more than 50 pledges in return for £10 million from the unions.

The agreement sealed union support for the 2005 general election.

It was supposed to provide the basis of a pro-union Labour third term.

Labour ministers promised trade union leaders, among other things, that they would eradicate two-tier working in the public sector.

They also promised “agreement to engage in effective dialogue over the future of public sector pensions” and even promised to remove the charitable status of posh schools.

None of that happened.

Brown is now looking for a Warwick Two meeting in July.

Activists should approach it with extreme caution and make sure that the fight for agency workers is not watered down into vague promises or, even worse, used to sell another empty deal in order for the unions to back Labour.


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