A local fight against the employment rights of agency workers



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A local fight against the employment rights of agency workers

Basic employment rights are being denied to workers through the ruthless exploitation of agency workers. Minimum wage, holiday pay and the Agency Workers Regulations have been ignored as a result of poor legislation and inadequate policing. This bad conduct seems to have become the norm in the recruitment industry, and agencies which choose to veto these unfair conditions for the agency workers, face difficulties in keeping afloat in a ever increasingly competitive market. Last year the recruitment industry increase by 8% and there is an overall trend for companies to use agencies for labour, as they can supply staff more cheaply then directly employed labour.


The recruitment industry employs over 1.2 million people in the UK and it seems surprising that there is no proper government legislation which regulates them. It could be argued that a bracket of the UK work force remains unprotected from exploitation. There have been many attempts to address this issue, but legislation guidelines are still unclear.


In 2013, 286 members of the recruitment sector provided their comments on the Government’s proposals to change legislation regulating the sector. These are commonly known as “Conduct Regs”. Some of the key points of the response were as follows.


  • To prohibit employment businesses from withholding payment from agency workers
  • To prohibit employment agencies and businesses from penalising work-seekers for terminating or giving notice to terminate a placement


The Government are also investigating breaches of the National Minimum Wage and they have stated that individuals will be able to enforce their rights “Informally and through the courts”. Yet, they have not made it clear whether this means through the Employment Tribunal, Civil or Small Claims court.


There is also the issue of agency workers being paid a lower rate of pay, even though they are performing the same role as their permanent counterparts. This has been highlighted locally in Somerset today. There has been a pay dispute at a South Marston distribution centre. The DHL depot operates as part of a Marks & Spencer’s distribution chain.  A fair majority of the workers at the DHL depot are employed by an agency called 24.7 Recruitment. The 24.7 Recruitment workers are paid minimum wage yet other workers doing the same job, employed directly by DHL, are paid at a rate of £8.50 per hour – £2 more than the agency workers.


In defence of the agency workers, a delegation of the GMB union went to Brussels to urge the EU Commission to alter a law that allows employers to pay workers different wages for the same role. The rule comes under Section 10 of the Agency Workers Regulations – otherwise known as the Swedish derogation. While the practice of conflicting pay is currently legal, it is unethical and strikes a conflict against M&S ethos.


They met with senior EU Commission officials for Employment, Social Legislation and Social Dialogue leading on Agency worker legislation. Chris Watts, president of the Wiltshire and Swindon branch of the GMB was given permission to argue that the Swedish Derogation loophole, of allowing people doing the same role on a different wage, worked “against the principles and spirit of the Agency Workers Directive to promote equality, security, social mobility and economic stability’


It’s too early to tell what the outcome of these discussions will be, but suffice say it is one stab in the right direction and is the start of creating a fairer working platform for agency workers, there is however still a lot of work to be done.


For further reading about this issue, you may like to read Aditya Chakrabortty’s article he wrote for the Guardian which gives more of a personal account of agency worker who has been misused by the system.