Agency worker rights to change

In October the Agency Workers Regulations 2010 will come into force after years of debate.

From October 1, the sweeping changes will see temporary workers who have been employed by a company for 12 consecutive weeks given the same rights, such as holidays, benefits and pay, as their permanent colleagues.

The new regulations will have a major impact on the way agency workers are treated, and it is important for any businesses which are potentially affected to prepare for the changes. They come as a result of the European Union’s agency workers directive, and in the UK about 4 per cent of the workforce is made up of temporary workers – reported to be double the European average.

The Government has now issued its guidance, available on the department for Business, Innovation and Skills website, and I would advise all affected businesses to prepare well in advance for the changes.

The new rules were agreed between the last Labour government, the TUC and the CBI in 2008, and had been felt to be complicated and would add pressure to businesses already dealing with financial constraints following the recession.

Edward Davey, the Government’s minister for employment relations, has said the guidance should help prepare companies for the changes, adding: “The agency sector is a key part of the UK's flexible labour market.

"It provides the flexibility needed for employers to meet surges in demand, cover temporary absences or cope with seasonal fluctuations."

The new, final guidance from the Government is designed to help both employers and the agencies which provide temporary staff understand the forthcoming regulations.

The guidance includes advice on topics such as the terms and conditions agency workers will be entitled to after the 12 week period and determining where the regulations apply.

It is vital to understand the regulations, as stiff penalties can apply for those businesses which ignore them. An employment tribunal which finds a company or agency has breached the regulations can impose a fine of up to £5,000.

Furthermore, agency workers will also be able to bring a claim to a Tribunal if a company has failed to treat them the same as permanent staff. There is no maximum level of compensation in this case.

Chris Boyle