Many employers use (and abuse) agency workers - not just to cover short-term fluctuations in workload or to cover absences, but to provide a proportion of the workforce who can be more cheaply dismissed, who have fewer rights and, until recently, who could often be paid less.
The Agency Worker Regulations (AWR), which came into force last year, were intended to partially address this by giving temporary and agency workers some legal protection against unfair treatment.
But as with all legislation, it's not much help if there's no effective enforcement. Whether a law works often comes down to whether individuals know their rights and whether they have the support of union organisation to advise and support them in asserting their rights. And of course where there is good union organisation we should be treating the legislation as a bare minimum and seeking to negotiate standards which are considerably higher wherever possible.
There are now quite a few useful publications to help union members and reps take advantage of the AWR, including:
- UNITE's "Agency worker regulations - what are my rights?"
- UNITE's bargaining guide to the Agency Worker Regulations 2010
- The TUC bargaining guide "Delivering equal treatment for agency workers"