A case for agency workers’ rights

BBC NEWS: EU stalemate on workers’ rights

I heard this being discussed on the radio this morning, with a discussion on the Today programme between representatives of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the Trades Union Congress (TUC); you can listen to it with this stream. I have considerable interest in this as I have been an agency worker for some time, having worked in both offices as a driver.

The CBI argued that this country has more agency workers than anywhere else in Europe, because agency workers offer flexibility to both workers and employers. My experience is that the flexibility is much more a benefit for employers, because they can sack someone for any reason they like, even after someone has been working there for months. I worked for a certain company for several months through the winter of 2002 and spring of 2003 until I took a week off for a family wedding in Ireland. The managers gave me every impression that I would be welcome back, but when I returned from Ireland I found that my job had been given away. There was nothing I could do about it and was out of work for weeks afterwards. The reason the foreman gave was that he did not like to keep agency drivers on for long, because they tended to “get their feet under the table”.

I think a compromise should be reached so that the nature of agency work is preserved - people know when they start that they are there on a temporary basis, which is why it’s called temping, and that when the occasion for their employment is over, so is their employment. I would, however, like to see more protection from unfair or capricious dismissal - and this for permanent workers as well, as they cannot sue for unfair dismissal until they have been employed for two years.

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