TUC’s agency workers complaint ‘could risk food jobs’

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Agency workers, European union

The TUC's complaint about the allegedly unfair treatment of agency workers could risk food and drink manufacturing jobs, said an industry insider
The TUC's complaint about the allegedly unfair treatment of agency workers could risk food and drink manufacturing jobs, said an industry insider
Food and drink manufacturing jobs could be at risk, after the Trades Union Congress (TUC) complained to the European Commission (EC) about the alleged unfair treatment of agency workers, an industry insider has told FoodManufacture.co.uk.

The row focuses on the so-called Swedish derogation contract, whereby someone who works for an agency becomes their contracted employee and does not have the same entitlements as permanent employees.

The insider – who asked to remain anonymous – said: “Maintaining flexibility within the workforce is hugely important to food and drink businesses, which often have to respond to unpredictable requirements such as short-term peaks in demand.

“Tinkering with the regulation, just as the economy is getting back on its feet, could put growth and jobs at risk.”

Firms use agency workers to cover peak production periods or to provide short-term cover for permanent employees and their use is governed by the Agency Workers Regulation (AWR), said the source. “This was built in close consultation with the unions and the derogation ​[Swedish derogation] under regulation 10 of the AWR helps to balance the needs of businesses and employees.”

‘Suffered discrimination’

But new TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady told FoodManufacture.co.uk that agency workers in food and drink manufacturing often suffered discrimination compared with their full-time colleagues.

“Evidence gathered by the TUC shows that Swedish derogation ​[regulation 10] contracts are used regularly in food production and parts of manufacturing,”​ said O’Grady. “Agency workers in these sectors are at particular risk of being paid up to 30% less for doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.”

We are calling on the European Commission to investigate these problems and, if necessary, to consider legal action against the UK government to ensure that agency workers are paid a fair rate for the work they do.”

The TUC argued that agency workers who have worked for a company for more than 12 weeks should be entitled to the same pay as permanent staff.

Temporary agency workers

The TUC insisted the government's implementation of the temporary agency workers directive – implemented two years ago – was flawed.

Sarah Beale, TUC head of equality and employment rights, claimed the UK government had misinterpreted the EU directive.

“We are not saying employers are bucking the UK laws, we are saying the government is not implementing the spirit and intentions of the European directive to provide equal treatment after 12 weeks for agency workers with people doing the same jobs,”​ Beale told BBC Radio 4’s Today ​programme yesterday (September 3).

“In other countries, which have implemented this directive properly, they​ [agency workers] are paid between assignments on a rate they would be getting if they were actually working,” ​she added. “So, it is a loophole. We have council’s opinion that this is the case and it is quite obviously a loophole.”

But Kevin Green, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, said the derogation was not a loophole but a “legitimate part of the legislation”, ​agreed after industry consultation.

Agency workers have benefited since these rules came in, he told the programme.

“The key thing is to get people into work, to make sure you're creating jobs, if you start unpicking regulations because you decide you don't like them, then you risk creating uncertainty, undermining employers' confidence and end up with fewer people in work.”

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