A leading international law firm has warned that the UK may need to delay as long as possible the implementation of the EU Temporary (Agency) Workers Directive to help aid the recovery of the country's construction industry.
Agency workers are widely used within the construction industry, which has been hit sooner and harder than any industry bar banking, and they often perform highly skilled roles.
Tom Potbury, a senior associate at Pinsent Masons, says many employers view the flexibility of the labor market as part of the reason for the UK's relative economic success in the past decade. Employers have previously been able to use agency workers in construction to avoid the long-term cost and commitment of employing permanent workers directly. Once the directive is implemented, UK law will give agency workers more of the rights and conditions enjoyed by permanent staff.
Potbury says: "The effect on construction could be significant. Temporary workers are a useful way of responding to fluctuations in demand and according to the CBI, currently represent 3.1% of the UK workforce. The reduction in this flexibility means organisations will endure greater costs if they use agency workers for extended periods of time. This will probably lead to a decline in use of such workers."
The directive aims to ensure equal treatment regarding working time, pay and maternity rights, to name but a few areas. However the UK has negotiated limitations on these rights. Potbury explains: "These rights will accrue only once an agency worker has been in the job for 12 weeks. Also, benefits such as sick pay or the right to join the occupational pension scheme, which recognise the long-term relationship permanent staff have with an employer, are excluded."
The UK has three years in which to implement the directive. Given the current climate, the government may wish to implement the directive as late as possible if it believes the directive could affect jobs.
Source: Brown Lloyd James Financial