Businesses groan as temps get new rights

Temporary workers may be about to be given new working rights - but businesses say it's going to make it even harder to offset those public-sector job cuts.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 18 Oct 2011
Tomorrow is D-day for agency workers: when new rules come into force giving them the same rights as full- and part-time employees. Well, sort of. The rules, as mooted by the previous government, will mean that after 12 weeks in one position, agency workers will be employed under the same conditions as their full-time counterparts, with access to canteens, overtime and holiday pay. Which is all very nice in principle – but businesses have pointed out that now isn’t the best time to introduce expensive new legislation.

When it comes into force on Saturday (rather oddly, given temps will, in all likelihood, enjoying the sunshine, rather than toiling away in the office), the nation’s 1.6m agency staff will be entitled to perks like using a crèche and transport services. 12 weeks later, they’ll be given equal pay, shift allowances, maternity rights and even bonuses not attributable to individual performance. It’s worth pointing out, though, that they won’t be entitled to all the same benefits as their full-time compadres: specifically, occupational sick pay, redundancy pay and health insurance.

The worry, of course, is that to avoid the rules, businesses will simply lay off temps after 11 weeks. But the Government insists it’s put preventative measures in place: if an employer gets into the habit of bringing in agency workers for 11-week stints, said workers will be able to take the employer to tribunal, where they could incur a fine of up to £5,000.  

Naturally, though, businesses aren’t enamoured by the idea – not least because a study by recruitment agency Reed of 30,000 agency workers found that employers’ wage bills could rise by an average of 5%, totalling £7m a year. Business’ point is that, given that they’re supposed to be offsetting the thousands of public sector jobs that have been axed over the past year or so, bringing in new legislation that makes it harder to employ people (albeit on a temporary basis) makes the idea of creating new jobs rather off-putting.

In fact, research by Allen & Overy found that half a million agency workers stand to lose their jobs before Christmas, with a third of employers planning to axe temp jobs just before the 11-week deadline. And we’d wager that, to the majority of temps, while having the same rights as full- and part-time employees is nice, having a job to go to is even nicer…

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