Agency temps: the new "equality" is a sham!

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
26 May 2008

As an add-on to his personal electoral re-launch, Brown decided to announce new rights for workers, including for agency temps. It must be said that there is a hidden reason for this: the EU's threat to end Britain's opt-out from the working time directive if nothing was done for agency workers.

On 20 May, an agreement between the TUC, the bosses' organisation, the CBI and the government was struck, which was described by the TUC as a "victory for union campaigning". It is supposed to allow agency workers to have "equal treatment"... after 12 weeks of employment in the same job.

However, "equal" is not the proper word as these rights do not remove the right for the bosses to over-exploit agency workers. After all, a lot of temporary agency contracts (at least half, says the CBI itself) do not even last for 12 weeks - and it is very likely that from now onwards, even fewer will last long enough for any kind of rights to kick in!

But what does this "right to equal treatment" mean? Well the right to be "treated the same" as another worker doing the same job, but no right to a pension or other "social occupational benefit" like, for instance, sick pay - and this for 12 weeks of slaving away like mad to avoid the sack!

Therefore, the government has only agreed, with the TUC's support, that under half of agency temps can have equal pay with permanent workers on the same job. That is all. As for anything else, by legal right, that is, they can whistle! Moreover, what will stop the bosses from by-passing the law, for instance by employing agency temps in particularly low-paid jobs and no permanent workers? No wonder the CBI welcomed the result as the "least worst" outcome, highlighting the fact that sick pay and pensions were excluded!

As for us, this means that we cannot rely on this law to act as a protection against the all too frequent exploitation imposed on agency temps and against the divisions this creates in our ranks. The most effective law for workers is always to stand up together, join ranks across all the artificial divisions created in our ranks by the bosses, and to read them the riot act!