Skip to main content

Temporary Agency Workers Directive

Volume 492: debated on Friday 8 May 2009

Following my statement of 22 May 2008, Official Report, column 32WS, I am today launching a consultation on the implementation of the Directive on conditions for temporary (agency) workers—Directive 2008/104/EC—the “Agency Workers Directive”, which was published in the Official Journal of the European Union on 5 December 2008. Copies of the consultation paper, which includes a copy of the Directive, are being placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The Government intend if possible to introduce the necessary legislation (regulations under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972) in this current parliamentary session.

The aim of the Directive is to ensure the protection of temporary agency workers by applying the principle of equal treatment, as set out in article 5—that the basic working and employment conditions (duration of working time, overtime, breaks, rest periods, night work, holidays and public holidays and pay) of temporary agency workers shall be, for the duration of their assignment at a hirer at least those that would apply if they had been recruited directly by that undertaking to occupy the same job. There are also other entitlements that aim to improve the situation for agency workers in other areas, for example, in terms of improved access to permanent employment and training. In order to liberalise the agency worker sector across the EU, the Directive also seeks to address restrictions and prohibitions on agency work which exist in many member states to see if they are justified.

Importantly, the Government secured text in the Directive allowing for a qualifying period before equal treatment is applicable, if this is provided for via an agreement between “social partners at national level”. This allows implementation on the basis of the agreement reached between the CBI and the TUC on 20 May 2008, under which agency workers will have an entitlement to equal treatment in relation to the basic working and employment conditions after 12 weeks in a given job. The consultation document makes clear the Government’s intention to follow this approach on this key point, and also sets out proposals or invites views on a range of other matters on which decisions are required to inform UK implementation

Agency work is a valued route into employment and there are currently around 1.3 million agency workers on temporary assignments across the UK in a range of public and private sector roles, playing a vital role in enabling employers to respond flexibly to changing business needs. In line with the Government’s twin objective of ensuring appropriate protections for agency workers while maintaining a flexible labour market, we support the principle in the Directive of ensuring fairer treatment for agency workers along with maintaining the combination of flexibility for workers and employers provided by the agency sector.

This consultation will run for 12 weeks, until 31 July 2009, after which we will publish the Government’s response. In line with normal practice for a change of this kind, we then intend to conduct a further consultation on the draft regulations, and to invite views on what practical advice users would welcome in the accompanying guidance.