Friday 24 October 2008

Agency & Temporary Workers Directive approved by MEPs

On Wednesday the European Parliament gave a second reading to the Temporary (Agency) Workers Directive. Employer reaction has been predictably negative at this small step to restrict the unfair treatment of vulnerable workers.

This is an important decision not just for those of us having to temp, but for everyone. The position of temps is a good example of the old union adage "an injury to one is an injury to all". Agency labour being used to undercut terms and conditions for permanent staff is a familiar complaint in many workplaces. Hopefully the legislation will discourage the long-term use of temps.

It is a disgrace that the UK government did the CBI's bidding and blocked this legislation for so long. Even now, the UK intends to allow temps to be discriminated against for the first 12 weeks of any job - unlike many countries where protection is from day-one.

I hope the union will swiftly issue guidance to negotiators on the issue, so that we can start establishing more agreements with employers on implementation. This is particularly important because it's not easy to get behind the hype and work out what the directive will actually mean.

Firstly, you have to find the damn thing. I think the version on the BERR web site is the final one.

Secondly, you have to work out what it means.

The principle is of equal treatment (after 12 weeks in the UK) compared to a directly employed worker doing the same job, but the principle does not apply to everything.

  • It covers the basic working and employment provisions
  • It specifically covers pay, working time, overtime, breaks, rest periods, night work, paid holidays and public holidays, protection from discrimination
  • It specifically includes basic working and employment provisions arising from collective agreements
  • The definition of what counts as "pay" is left up to member states
  • Member states can decide whether temps are included or excluded from the thresholds in procedures for setting up bodies to represent workers in the "user undertaking" - this could affect European Works Councils (EWCs), national Information & Consultation (I&C) bodies and union recognition.
  • User organisations must provide information about the use of temporary workers to EWCs and I&C bodies
  • Temps must be informed about vacant posts in the user undertaking and have the same opportunity as other workers in the user undertaking to find permanent employment. I find this provision confusing, as other workers in the user undertaking presumably already have permanent employment, so what does it mean?
  • Temps must have equal access to amenities and collective services (canteens, childcare, transport etc) unless there are genuine reasons
The passing of the Directive is a step forward, albeit a smaller one than could have been achieved if the UK government had not been so vigorous in pursuing the employers' agenda.

We need to keep the pressure up on the UK government to transpose the Directive into UK law as quickly and favourably as possible.

It's also interesting to read that employers are concerned that a deal on the Working Time Directive may be voted down by MEPs. The CBI claim the deal (which would make things worse in a number of ways) was agreed by the TUC as a trade-off for getting the legislation for temporary workers. This is something that UNITE denies, but which the government appears to believe - apparently there was even reference to it in the paperwork for the recent Warwick 2 National Policy Forum.

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