Temporary agency work examined
Temporary agency work has been permitted in Slovakia since February 2004, and is now regulated by several items of labour legislation, which include guarantees on workers' pay and conditions. Temporary work agencies must obtain a licence and provide their services free of charge. Although detailed statistics on agency work are not yet available, just under 50 agencies had obtained a licence by late 2004 and some employers have shown an interest in employing agency workers. Most have been posted to companies in Slovakia, especially in Bratislava, but some also to the Czech Republic.
Temporary agency work in Slovakia is intended to help unemployed people find a job more quickly. Several agencies have provided services for the unemployed for a fee, but lack of money prevents many jobless persons from using them. The Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family (Ministerstvo práce, sociálnych vecí a rodiny Slovenskej republiky, MPSVR SR) therefore decided to regulate temporary agency work through Act No. 5/2004 on Employment Services. Such work has thus been permitted in Slovakia since 1 February 2004.
Main points of the legislation
Under the Act, temporary work agencies provide services for unemployed people free of charge. Any legal or physical person, including the self-employed, may establish a temporary work agency (for individuals, conditional on completion of secondary education and absence of criminal record) after obtaining a licence from the Centre for Labour, Social Affairs and Family (Ústredie práce, sociálnych vecí a rodiny, ÚPSVR). Use of temporary agency work is not restricted in any sector or area of the labour market. Nevertheless, the licence - issued for a fee and valid for a maximum of five years, though it may be prolonged - specifies the agency's territorial and occupational scope. If the agency breaches the regulations or behaves unfairly, however, it can lose its licence.
Apart from the Act on Employment Services, the Labour Code and the Act on Occupational Health and Safety regulate temporary agency work and ensure the same employment conditions for agency workers as for all other employees. The employment and working conditions of agency workers are monitored by the labour inspectorate.
Agency workers sign an employment contract with the agency in which the latter guarantees them temporary employment at a user company and specifies the terms and conditions of employment. Temporary work agencies must ensure the observance of all mandatory rights according to labour legislation, including wage rights. An agency worker may be posted to a user company in accordance with a written fixed-term 'allocation' agreement (employers pay the agency a fee). The temporary employment contract may be terminated before expiry upon mutual agreement or unilaterally under agreed conditions.
Written agreements on the temporary posting of agency workers should include information on the user company, the duration of the temporary employment, the job specification and location, wage conditions and conditions for early termination of employment. Current law does not explicitly regulate the maximum duration of temporary work assignments and the number of renewals of a temporary employment contract with the same employer.
The areas of employment conditions of temporary agency workers regulated by the legislation include the following:
- working time;
- health and safety issues, including employees’ compensation in case of occupational injury or disease;
- wage protection in case of the employer’s insolvency;
- protection of maternity and parental rights; and
- the right to collective bargaining.
No discrimination is allowed against agency workers in comparison with other workers at the user company. However, some differences are permitted with regard to wages (eg bonuses and extra payments to core employees need not be paid to temporary workers) when a temporary employment contract is signed for less than six months and if the agency worker is properly protected by the company collective agreement.
According to the rules, temporary work agencies should report annually to the ÚPSVR on their activities, within two months of the end of the calendar year. Agencies have no other duty to provide information on their activities, such as data on the number, gender structure, skills, length of contract and wages of workers. Some statistics on temporary agency work may be available in spring 2005.
According to the information available to the ÚPSVR, 46 licences had been issued for temporary work agencies by October 2004. Their territorial distribution is wide, covering all regions of the country. Several agencies that were already providing services for job-seekers for a fee have also obtained a licence for temporary agency work. Public employment offices may also establish a temporary work agency, but so far they have shown little inclination to do so.
Under the law, each agency must specify its planned territorial coverage when it applies for the licence. According to the list available to the ÚPSVR, the territorial coverage of some agencies includes several other EU Member States. A list of the jobs offered by the agency should also be specified in the application: according to the available information, the range of jobs offered is relatively wide, including unskilled auxiliary work, skilled work in industry, agriculture and construction, various middle-management positions, insurance work and administration. The majority of agency workers have been posted to user companies operating in Slovakia, and some to the Czech Republic. About one-third of all agency workers are employed in Bratislava. Both domestic and multinational companies have begun to use agency workers. Information on the allocation of agency workers to other EU countries is not yet available.
Some temporary work agencies complain that cooperation can be difficult with unemployed people who sign a contract for temporary employment. In some cases the unemployed person rejects a job because in the meantime they have found a better job elsewhere. In such cases, the agency's efforts have been in vain and they must also disappoint the user company.
According to representatives of the Confederation of Trade Unions of the Slovak Republic (Konfederácia odborových zväzov Slovenskej republiky, KOZ SR), agency workers are often posted to employers that employ them for less than six months. As mentioned, the legislation allows the employer to pay lower wages to agency workers than to other employees. Moreover, the wages of agency workers are often close to the minimum wage. According to the trade unions, some agency workers are informally 'charged' for getting the job, in which case their actual pay may be even lower than the minimum wage.
The Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family considers temporary agency work a useful tool for helping unemployed people get jobs. Such workers are, it believes, properly protected by law and the labour inspectorate has not yet detected any violation regarding terms and conditions of employment.
The employers’ organisations have not made any official statement on temporary agency work, but the available information indicates that employers consider agency workers as a useful, flexible workforce. We may assume that the number of temporary workers, including transnational postings, will increase in the coming years. Employers can draw on temporary agency workers in accordance with changing demand and for seasonal work, and they face little difficulty terminating employment, since the workers are employees of the agency. According to the available - informal - information, employers would prefer an extension of the current six-month period during which lower wages may be paid to temporary workers. (Ludovít Cziria, Bratislava Centre for Work and Family Studies)