CBI renews attack on draft temporary agency workers Directive

In November 2002, coinciding with the European Parliament's vote on the proposal for an EU Directive on the working conditions of temporary agency workers, the CBI, the main UK employers' organisation, issued a strong attack on the proposed measure which it argues would threaten employment opportunities for unemployed people.

During November 2002, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) reiterated its strong criticism (UK0203101N) of the proposed EU Directive on working conditions for temporary (agency) workers (EU0204205F). The CBI’s offensive, timed to coincide with the European Parliament’s first reading vote on 21 November (EU0212201N), highlights the damage that UK employers believe the Directive will have on the employment prospects of agency workers if it is adopted without significant amendment.

The CBI condemned MEPs for backing the proposed Directive, arguing that the legislation would cause particular harm in the UK because this country has by far the highest number of agency workers - some 700,000 - of any EU Member State. The CBI estimates that 'as many as 160,000 employment opportunities will be destroyed - opportunities that are often vital routes into work for the unemployed, ex-offenders and working mums.'

According to John Cridland, deputy director-general of the CBI: 'the Directive is a classic example of how rigid law can damage people it is intended to protect. Employers in some countries will be relatively unaffected because agencies operate differently, while the UK would be badly hit. The CBI supports minimum standards for agency workers, but it is unreasonable to expect the host business to set pay levels as this is a matter for agencies.'

The CBI wants the right to equal pay to become applicable only after agency workers have worked for a particular employer for 12 months. The UK government is also understood to be arguing for a similar approach in discussions within the Council of Ministers. The amendments to the Directive supported by the European Parliament would enable the UK and Ireland not to require pay parity for agency workers on assignments of under six weeks - an exemption which would last for a period of five years from the implementation date of the Directive.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has also lobbied and prepared briefings for MEPs on the Directive, with the aim of ensuring that the Directive is not 'watered down' during the legislative process. A key objective for the TUC is the removal of the six-week threshold for the right to equal treatment for agency workers on pay. Commenting on the outcome of the European Parliament’s vote, the TUC said: 'This law will give temporary agency workers important new rights but they deserve equal pay with their permanent workmates from day one. The six-week loophole gives unscrupulous bosses a licence to continue underpaying some of their staff. It’s difficult to see why temps in the UK will be five years behind the rest of Europe in getting the full benefits of this protection.'

The TUC argues that agency workers face a significant pay gap - on average GBP 110 a week less - compared with permanent workers doing the same job. It calculates that introducing a 12-month qualifying period would exclude over 70% of all UK agency workers from the Directive’s entitlement to equal treatment on pay.

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