Agency Workers Directive Nov02

In Strasbourg next week, the European Parliament will be voting on the controversial Agency Workers Directive - a proposal from the European Commission that threatens to introduce new legislation and therefore more red tape affecting thousands of temporary agency workers employed throughout the UK.

The contribution of agency workers to the UK workplace today, especially in the East of England, is greater than ever before. It is currently estimated that around 700,000 people are working as temporary agency workers at any one time in the UK, representing almost half the entire figure for agency workers across the EU.

In its current format, the Directive specifies that after a 6-week period a temporary worker could claim comparability with an 'equivalent' employee of the user enterprise doing the same or similar job for the purposes of 'basic pay and conditions'. This equal treatment would impose significant administrative burdens on both user companies and agencies, particularly small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

The impact could be devastating. SMEs are likely to reduce their use of temporary workers, putting an estimated 170,000 jobs at risk. Other companies, however, will be forced to carry the costs associated with equalisation, increasing the pressures on consumer prices and service delivery levels. Alternatively, they may decide to reduce the pay and benefits of permanent staff. There is also a fear that staff loyalty among permanent workers will decline due to the apparent improved status of temporary co-workers.

Behind the Agency Workers Directive is the suspicion that temporary workers are an exploited group in some areas of the EU. This is generally not the case in the UK. On the contrary, most temporary workers enjoy their work and feel that it is the key to the fulfilment of their long-term career and lifestyle. The present UK regulatory framework, which guarantees basic employment rights such as the national minimum wage, working time regulations and health and safety regulation, offers a clear balance between flexibility and protection for agency workers. This additional red tape from Brussels is not necessary!

Agency working is the key to competitive strength in our economy, and to an improving work/life balance for our workers. It offers a route back into work for those who have been out of the workforce through sickness, pregnancy etc, and a chance for many who would otherwise be excluded from the labour market. For many, it is a bridge to permanent employment, allowing new entrants and low skill workers to gain the necessary experience for a better job whilst they are earning.

In the East of England, we have many food processing firms, horticultural suppliers and farmers where the work is seasonal. Such employers rely on temporary workers to cope with their busy periods and would be seriously affected by the new regulations.

This Directive, if adopted in its current format could have a major negative impact on the flexibility of the UK labour market, be damaging to the UK economy, and restrict choice and opportunity for temporary workers, as well as increase the cost of labour for businesses. I will be voting to amend these proposals in Strasbourg to ensure that agency workers and their users in the Eastern Region are protected