The parliamentary private member’s bill seeking to give agency workers the same employment rights as permanent employees got strong backing to progress last month.
In addition, the possible agreement on the stalled EU Temporary Agency Workers Directive is on the horizon. But what do firms think the impact will be?
Employers are divided on the subject, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development/KPMG quarterly Labour Market Outlook survey of more than 1,500 employers. They are also split on how long agency workers should have to work for them before qualifying for the same rights as workers on permanent contracts.
On the positive side one in five employers think that agency workers should be given the same ‘pay and contract of employment’ conditions from the first day of employment. Over a third think this should apply within the first six months of employment, while a further third prefer a qualifying period of at least six months.
More rights, fewer jobs?
But many organisations are concerned about the effect of an increase in the rights of agency staff, with more than a quarter of employers arguing that agency workers should never qualify for the same rights as permanent employees.
The survey findings also suggest that increased rights for agency workers could mean fewer jobs in the economy overall and block an important pathway into work for many jobless people.
Almost half of responding employers think the Agency Workers Directive would make the process of hiring agency temps more bureaucratic, while 61 per cent think it will increase labour costs. Well over a third of employers think the Directive would have a negative impact on their organisation, with 39 per cent saying it would have an effect on recruitment.
Focus on the practicalities
With these mixed reactions to increasing rights for agency workers, we think the debate should focus on the practicalities, especially the matter of the most appropriate qualifying period, rather than the principle at issue.
Our research lends weight to the Government’s cautious stance toward both the parliamentary private member’s bill and the proposed EU Directive and endorses the plan to establish an independent commission to examine the practicalities and potential economic risks.
If agency workers are to be given the same rights as permanent employees it is crucial that we get the detail right. Our latest survey findings suggest that a qualifying period of at least six months is necessary to command the support of employers.
However, with over a third of employers believing the Agency Workers Directive will have a negative impact, the proposed independent commission will need to work hard to consider the risks associated with this policy if it is to allay employer concerns.