Agency workers to get more rights

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The Independent Online

Agency workers will be given the same rights as permanent staff after 12 weeks on the job following an agreement between employers and unions designed to pre-empt a European directive on the matter.

The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform confirmed yesterday that it had brokered a deal between the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress that it believes should create flexibility on the upcoming EU agency workers directive for Britain. The Business Secretary, John Hutton, said: "This is the right deal for Britain. Today's agreement achieves our twin objectives of flexibility for British employers and fairness for workers. It will give people a fair deal at work without putting their jobs at risk or cutting off a valuable route into employment."

All agency workers in Brit-ain will be entitled to equal working and employment conditions after 12 weeks in one job. But the deal falls short of Brussels' draft plans to include equal entitlement on pensions and sick pay after up to six weeks in a job because of fears that the costs would put employers off hiring agency personnel. If accepted by Brussels, the agreement should also allow the UK to retain the working hours opt-out from the working time directive which is also under discussion in Europe. Senior Government sources voiced confidence that the European Commission would use yesterday's agreement as the basis for an EU-wide directive on agency workers, which could be in place as soon as the summer.

Important backing for the deal came from Vladimír Špidla, the EU commissioner for employment, social affairs and equal opportunities, who said it was "a milestone for social dialogue in the UK and an important step towards fair treatment of agency workers both in the UK and in Europe".

The TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, said: "The agreement is a victory for union campaigning. The issue of agency workers has been crying out for attention for far too long. Too many agency workers face unfair treatment and injustice."

But the CBI described the deal as the lesser of two evils on offer for British business. John Cridland, the group's deputy director general, said: "There has been a major risk of damaging legislation coming from Brussels, and the CBI has judged that the Government's proposals represent the least worst outcome available for British business."

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