Rights for agency workers

It’s in the news on a daily basis at the moment. The proposal to give agency workers the same rights as permanent workers. Good idea? Well, as with everything else in life, that depends on which side of the fence you analyse the situation from…….

The agency worker plays many different roles within organisations including:

  • sickness cover
  • holiday cover
  • maternity / adoption cover
  • peak season resourcing
  • special project resourcing
  • getting around recruitment freezes
  • getting around having no headcount
  • actively managing the workforce to provide a lean core operation and a flexible peripheral operation
  • Lower cost model as no benefits are due from the company

At the moment, agency workers are paid by their agency and the agency invoices the company for a service. The agencies tend to fix the rate depending on the skills, experience and the nature of the role to be performed. The agency also charge a % fee on top of the hourly rate that the agency worker gets. Part of this fee is to provide sickness and holiday pay to the agency worker.

Under the proposal, after 12 weeks working for a single employer, the agency workers will be entitled to the same pay and benefits as the permanent members of staff. I believe that in some cases this is absolutely right. In the case of a recent client, one secretary had been an agency secretary for the client for 10 years – without a break. She was not entitled to the same holidays, pension, notice periods etc. For 10 + years of loyalty….. that is just not right! It also costs the company a fortune in agency fees – where is the business sense in that?

For a short period of sickness or holiday cover, I fully accept that it is more practical to use an agency worker, but on long term assignments agency workers are not the solution. Recruit employees on fixed term contracts if necessary, move them around as they are needed within the business, multi-skill the workforce to reduce costs and improve motivation – think laterally and respect the human resources which are fundamental to the business success.

If an organisation does use agency workers, the model needs to be changed. Agency workers need to work for one agency and be employed by that agency. If they want to work for another agency they should resign, just like an employee would have to do from their job if they want to work elsewhere. The agency should commit to certain levels of work, pay and benefits in line with an industry standard. The like for like comparison should be with other agency workers operating in the same environment, not with permanent members of staff at the client organisation.

It is not just a piece of legislation which is needed, it is a change in attitude and buying behaviour of organisations and the supplier behaviour of agencies.