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UK – Protests launched over agency workers “cheated on pay”

16 January 2013

Members of the Communications Workers Union (CWU) are planning a series of protests across the UK today over a legal “loophole” which allows staffing firms to bypass paying temporary workers equal wages, the union claimed.

Demonstrations will take place at call centres around the country to highlight the “exploitation” of agency workers, involving some working for recruitment giant ManpowerGroup. This follows the introduction of the Agency Workers Regulations (AWR) in October 2011 which entitles temporary staff to equal treatment with permanent staff – including pay – after 12 weeks in a job.

But the union said that many agency workers are signing legal Pay Between Assignment (PBA) contracts, often without knowing that they are “signing away” their rights to equal pay which in some cases results in workers losing up to £500 a month in wages.

Some staffing companies make use of a derogation within the AWR, allowing them to avoid paying temporary workers equal pay after the 12-week qualifying period. This exemption, known as Swedish derogation, has been criticised since the law has come into force.

CWU general secretary, Billy Hayes, blamed staffing companies and their clients for this practice. “Both agencies and hirers are at fault for choosing to use these contracts which sign away workers’ rights to equal pay, rather than sticking to the spirit of the new legislation which had equal pay at its heart.”

He claimed that agency staff earn less than the living wage and demanded an end to such “dishonest” contracts.

But Tom Hadley from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) said that the PBA contracts are not a loophole but a “legitimate part of the legislation that was agreed after significant consultation by the government with recruiters, employers and unions.”

He said that apart from pay, agency workers still receive all other equal treatment rights when signing such contracts.

“Signing the contract makes the worker an employee of the recruitment agency, meaning the individual gets the security of a full employment contract and all the benefits that incurs like protection from unfair dismissal and entitlement to statutory redundancy pay. The agency has to pay them even when they are not actually working on an assignment, hence the name ‘Pay Between Assignment’ contract,” said Mr Hadley.  

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