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Government consults on temporary worker rights

Regulations that will see agency workers given the same rights on pay and conditions as permanent staff have gone out to consultation.

The new rules have been the subject of negotiation between the government, employers’ groups and the unions.

Under the EU Agency Workers Directive, temporary staff will receive the pay and conditions entitlements after working for 12 weeks in a given job.

Employers will also be prevented from releasing staff after 11 weeks and then re-employing them as a way of circumventing the regulations.

It is thought the legislation will be passed at some point this year, although the government will have until December 2011 to bring the new rules into force.

Pat McFadden, the employment relations minister, said: “The government is determined to ensure that people get a fair deal at work, including the agency workers who play a vital role in the UK economy.”

Business organisations expressed concerns that the new rules should not hamper economic recovery or limit the flexibility of the UK’s labour market.

John Cridland, the CBI’s deputy-director general, said: “Although this directive has been agreed in Brussels, there are still lots of questions that remain about how it will be implemented in the UK.

“It would be a nonsense to introduce redundancy rights in a company where agency staff work but are not employed. Agency working is important for the UK economy and we mustn’t undermine it with clumsy regulation.”

Kieran O’Keeffe, who is head of European Representation at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), urged delay in implementing the regulations: “The success of the UK economy over recent years has been down to our flexible labour market. While the economy is weak this is not the time to further reduce flexibility.

“Implementation of this directive should be delayed until the last possible date. The government’s priority should be to honour their commitment to move a million people back into work and they must make sure this directive does not undermine that.”

Kevin Green, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), argued that care should be taken to ensure the legislation is workable.

Mr Green said: “The stakes are extremely high for business, the £22 billion temp market and for the employment landscape in the UK.

“A poorly drafted and unhelpful implementation of the EU Directive could unleash a regulatory wrecking-ball through the UK’s jobs market. Over a million temporary and contract workers are on assignment each week, and it is crucial to ensure that the equal treatment measures do not reduce employment opportunities.

“After what has essentially been a political debate in Brussels, it is time look at the practicalities of making the directive work in the UK.”

The REC has put forward a series of recommendations that, it says, would improve the application of the new laws.

Specifically, the REC wants the scope of equal treatment limited to basic salary and other basic statutory rights. The 12-week qualifying period should be made easier to administer too, and the provision of the directive should be limited to individual workers.

Introducing the changes, the REC added, must be put back until October 2011.

Responses to the consultation must be submitted by 31 July 2009. More details are available at http://www.berr.gov.uk/consultations/page51233.html