The government along with the TUC and CBI recently agreed a deal under which agency workers in the UK will receive the same treatment as permanent staff after only 12 weeks' employment. The agreement is designed to promote fairer treatment for agency workers, while retaining the flexibility that agency work can offer both employers and workers.

Under the agreement, after 12 weeks in a given job agency workers will be entitled to equal treatment. “Equal treatment” in this context means that agency workers will be entitled to at least the basic working and employment conditions that apply to the workers that have been recruited directly by an undertaking to occupy the same job. It does not however cover occupational social security schemes such as sick pay and pensions, or confer unfair dismissal rights.

The Government believes the deal will enable agreement to be reached in Europe on an Agency Workers Directive. Further consultation will take place on the implementation of the directive, which will look to devise ways in which disputes regarding the definition of equal treatment can be resolved, and ensure compliance with the new rules in ways that avoid both undue delays for workers and unnecessary administrative burdens for businesses.

Unions have long argued for agency workers to be given the same rights as permanent staff, while there are concerns in some quarters of the business community that the directive would reduce labour market flexibility and increase costs.

It is thought that the agency workers who will benefit most from the changes will be those employed on a longterm basis, rather than those used by businesses to provide short term cover during busy periods.

The Government will work at European level to reach agreement on the terms of the Agency Workers Directive. If it is successful, new legislation granting agency workers these enhanced rights could be passed in the autumn.