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Full employment rights for agency workers?

I was contacted recently by BBC Radio London 94.9 for comments about the bill proposed by Labour MP Andrew Miller which would give agency workers the same rights on pay and conditions as permanent employees. MPs voted for the changes by 147 to 11 and as a result ministers are proposing an inquiry into the issue.

Whilst Andrew Miller sees this move as 'morally right', he does not appear to understand the reasons why agency work exists – to meet a different need that businesses have from permanent employees.

In his speech he told MPs, 'It's in the best long-term interests of the economy to encourage employers to plan for the long term and establish a well-trained and well-motivated workforce'. I agree with this.

He goes on to say 'How can it be right for people to work alongside each other with the same skills doing precisely the same task and yet one category of employee is worth less than another?' Well, the answer is that they are not doing the same work. In many cases temps are 'holding the fort' and doing only a proportion of the work that is to be done. They also do not have the same relationship with the employer or have the level of commitment to a job as permanent employees.

So what are the advantages of agency workers? For both the worker and the business the main advantage is speed and flexibility. For the business, the fact that you can take on someone for a few hours or a few months, is quick and effective and cuts down the red tape.

People are attracted to agency work for a number of reasons:

  • to try out a different kind of work

  • when re-entering the job market after a break

  • they can move jobs easily with little or no notice

  • this type of work suits their lifestyle.

Agency workers do get holiday pay and statutory sick pay. Giving them full employment rights just does not make business sense – but will Gordon Brown be able to persuade the unions of this…?


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