Do your agency workers know their rights?

Posted on 14 May 2015

By John O’Reilly

Research recently conducted by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) on agency workers highlights the fact that many agency workers are unaware of their rights and are afraid of raising concerns. It is right, and valid, that Acas has brought this important issue to the fore, and begs the question: Why are agency workers so ill informed of their rights?

According to Labour Force Survey figures the number of agency temps has risen significantly since the recession, rising to 321,165 by Winter 2012, accounting for 1.27% of the employed workforce. It was the aim of the European Union Agency Workers Regulations 2010 - which came into force in Britain on 1st October 2011 – to ensure equal treatment of agency workers and to protect their rights.

However, it seems apparent that many employers and agencies are far from clear on their obligations to inform employees on their rights, and in some instances unscrupulous agencies may well be exploiting this ‘information gap’ by, for example, not informing temporary workers of their right to holiday pay equal to directly employed staff after a 12 week qualifying period.

Greater transparency is needed. Reputable employers and agencies will ensure processes and policies are in place to offer temporary workers the necessary assurances that their rights are being protected and respected, in full. And that comes down to communication.

Workers should be issued with a full set of terms and conditions and these rights and conditions should be explained to them at the time of registration or interview. It is critical that important aspects of their contract of employment, holiday entitlements, notice periods and disciplinary procedures are clearly outlined. Any reputable employer or agency will explain to people exactly what their statutory rights are and if they have anything in excess of statutory rights, they will inform them of those benefits as well.

Some employers or agencies may be unaware that under the Agency Worker Regulations, after a 12 week qualifying period, agency workers are entitled to the same basic conditions of employment as directly employed workers. This specifically covers pay (including any fee, bonus, commission, or holiday pay relating to the assignment) but does not include redundancy pay, contractual sick pay, and maternity/paternity pay. Clearly, it is crucial that contracts for temporary workers highlight these points. Payslips too, should show a worker’s accrual of holiday.

Acas’ research also indicates that agency workers are afraid of raising concerns and there are examples cited of workers reporting that they are coerced into working without adequate training. Any professional agency or good employer should undertake a detailed assessment of a worker’s role. They should then go through that role with the individual so that the individual knows exactly what their role is and what their responsibilities are. Importantly, proper training for the task must be given.

Then there should be a mechanism for feedback, so that if the individual is asked to do something that they believe is beyond their role or skill-set they are able to report it. In the first instance, any such issue should be fed back to the agency, and the agency should take it up with the client. If it becomes evident that the individual should be performing the task, then the agency must ensure the correct training is in place for the worker.

There are four key points of consideration:   

• There should be a defined disciplinary procedure

• There should be a defined grievance and complaints procedure

• Skills and risk assessments, coupled with detailed candidate briefings, should be standard

• Payment of agency workers must be the sole responsibility of the recruitment agency

Retaining a flexible and agile workforce is critical to the economic performance of UK plc. It is this ability to flex labour requirements to suit the growth and commercial interests of individual companies that feeds through to greater job opportunities for the national workforce – creating flexible jobs that match the complex patterns of many people’s busy lives. But such flexible arrangements are dependent upon clear contracts, defined processes and procedures, and absolute commitment to open communication between agency and worker. Only then will temporary staff know where they stand on their rights and have the confidence to air concerns.

John O’Reilly is Operations Director at FlexPlus