Euro rights boost for temps

Good news for temporary workers: thanks to the EU, you've now got the same rights as the permanent lot...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

At a meeting in Luxembourg, EU ministers have hammered out a new agreement giving part-time workers the same employment rights as their full-time colleagues when it comes to things like holiday and sick pay. The new deal, which will kick in after 12 weeks of employment, will supposedly benefit about 1.3m agency workers in the UK.

After 12 hours of hardcore coffee and croissants, Business Secretary John Hutton emerged looking rather pleased with himself this morning, calling the agreement ‘a very good deal for Britain’. And it does seem like a rare bit of good news for the Government: it’s persuaded the EU to drop its original plan to grant equal rights from day one of a temporary contract, which went down equally badly with the Treasury and with business bodies. And in exchange for backing down on its original suggestion of a one-year threshold, he’s also been able to strengthen the UK’s opt-out from the EU’s working time directive. So now it’s even easier for us to work more than 48 hours a week. Oh joy.

Of course, the deal would probably have been done a lot quicker had it not been for us pesky Brits. The talks had apparently reached an impasse when Hutton refused to consider the original EU plan, or a compromise six-week threshold suggested by the unions (much to their annoyance). However, believe it or not, the TUC and the CBI managed to put their heads together and agree on a 12-week threshold, which Hutton was then able to take back to the EU to revive the talks. It’s like the 1970s never happened…

According to Hutton, the key priority was for the UK to retain flexibility in the labour market – which means not making it too onerous for firms to hire temporary staff, and allowing people to work overtime if they want to. This compromise, he says, ‘provides a fair deal for workers without damaging Britain's economic competitiveness or putting jobs at risk’.

On the other hand, it won’t be universally popular. Much of continental Europe finds it hard to understand this strange insistence we have on the right to work an extra-long week, and are still hoping that the European Parliament will block it (maybe they think it will make them look work-shy?). And closer to home, smaller businesses won’t like it – even if the ruling could have been a lot worse, it’s still going to be costly and time-consuming to implement. The Federation of Small Businesses called it a ‘disastrous deal….After month-on-month increases in unemployment and with economic growth at its lowest point since the last recession, this is the last thing small businesses need’.

So perhaps Hutton shouldn’t be patting himself on the back just yet...

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