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The Agency Workers Directive to become EU law

The draft Directive on temporary agency work has been on the EU agenda since 2002 mainly due to the UK opposition. The UK Government had previously believed that the draft Directive would harm the country's deregulated labour market. The Agency Workers Directive providing further rights for temporary workers is another piece of EU legislation that will make the labour market less flexible.

The aim of the Directive is to harmonise Member States legislation on temporary workers. The main controversial issue has been the so-called "grace period", after which the same conditions shall apply to the temporary agency workers as to permanent workers. The European Commission has proposed a six-week of “grace period” whereas the UK, Germany, Denmark and Ireland have called for 12 months.

The Employment Council on 9 June 2008 reached a political agreement on the draft Agency Workers Directive in parallel with a political agreement on the Working Time Directive.

The deal between the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), and the UK Government reached on 20 May on granting equal treatment to workers employed via temporary work agencies has opened the door for an EU agreement on the issue. Gordon Brown has agreed to provide temporary workers with the same rights as permanent workers as regards general pay, overtime arrangements, and holidays, after 12 weeks of employment in return the UK will be allowed to kept the Working Time Directive opt-out from the 48 hours working week cap.

A Slovenian compromise has proposed that the principle of equal treatment would apply from day one and not after a given period of time but under the adopted text it would be also possible for Member States to agree derogations from this through agreements between social partners at national level such as the 12 week period that Gordon Brown has established with the trade unions.

Last September, the Council formally adopted, by a qualified majority, its Common Position which was backed by the Commission and the European social partners. According to the European Commission the Council Common Position not only enhances the text of the original proposal as well as responds to the European Parliament's wish to guarantee that the principle of equal treatment, as regards employment conditions, between temporary agency workers and the workers directly recruited by user companies should have effect from the first day of employment. Moreover, this principle’s exceptions will be very limited and must be agreed by the social partners, either through collective bargaining or through social partner agreements concluded at national level.

On 22 October the European Parliament adopted the Council Common Position on temporary work, without amendments, at the second reading vote. In fact, the Council took on board the majority of the European Parliament’s first reading amendments.

Under the Temporary Agency Workers directive equal treatment will be ensured from day one for temporary agency workers compared to permanent workers as regards pay, holidays, working time, rest periods and maternity leave as well as equal access to collective facilities.

The UK is allowed to implement the agreement between CBI and TUC therefore the UK employers will be required to provide to agency workers the same treatment as regards working and employment conditions as permanent staff after 12 weeks in a job.

Roger Helmer has said that this directive "(…) makes our labour markets less competitive and less flexible. It damages our economies at the very time we can least afford to have them damaged."

A final version of the Directive will be adopted after the Council’s second reading. It is expected that the Directive will become EU law in spring 2009 at the latest. All the EU Member States will have three years to implement this directive into their national legislations after the entry into force. Consequently, all EU Member States will have until 2011 to transpose the Directive.

The new Directive will not improve temporary workers pay and conditions. In fact, it would be harder for temporary workers to find a job. The Temporary Agency Workers Directive will impose administrative burdens and costs on companies wich, consequently, would take on fewer of temporary workers.

Kevin Green, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, has called for a delay on the UK implementation of the Directive. He said “In the current downturn, temporary jobs are a vital resource for employers who are unwilling to take on permanent staff as well a providing opportunities for jobseekers. Temporary workers will also play a vital role as the economy picks up. It is essential therefore that we avoid adding any unnecessary bureaucracy and cost to the provision of agency workers.”


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Bill Cash has been the Conservative Member of Parliament for Stone since 1997 and an MP since 1984.

He is currently the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee and the founder member of the European Foundation...

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