#DecentJobsWeek: This exploitation of agency workers must end
Tina is a qualified further education lecturer employed through an agency which forced her to sign a permanent contract of employment. She is only paid for the time she spends teaching but not for planning or attending meetings. Because she only teaches 24 hours a week she can’t claim working tax credit.
Her colleague, who is unqualified but on a permanent contract, is paid double Tina’s salary. “I do the same job and am treated the same as a permanent FE lecturer but I receive half the pay,” says Tina.
Tina is notified of her hours of work at the beginning of September. Because she finds it difficult to make ends meet, she has a second job as a library assistant at weekends to supplement her pay. Here she is employed on a zero-hours contract.
Decent Jobs Week is shining a spotlight on the growing levels of insecurity and low pay in the UK today. Much of the media attention has focused on the plight of zero-hours contract workers. Official statistics however also show that the numbers of those in agency work has risen sharply following the recession. As Tina’s story demonstrates, agency workers also experience huge job and income insecurity and problems of low pay.
Employers argue that agency work offers a welcome stepping stone, particularly for young people, into more secure employment. However research published by the TUC shows that temporary agency working is far from a positive choice for the majority, with three in five saying they are only doing agency work because they cannot find permanent work. A massive 81 per cent of those aged 20-24 and 64 per cent of those aged 25-29 want a permanent job.
Agency workers are expected to be constantly at the employers’ “beck-and-call”.
One young agency worker working in a food factory recently told the TUC: “[I] never know from one week to the next how many hours and what hours I will be working.”
Another describing the insecurity of their working life said: “I cannot plan anything. Sometimes they let me know [I’m needed] only half an hour before [my] shift.”
In 2011, thanks to TUC and unions campaigns, the government introduced rights for agency workers to the same rates of pay, hours and holidays as permanent staff after twelve weeks.
Whilst some employers use agency workers to respond to occasional peaks-and-troughs in demand, too often the increase in this kind of employment has been fuelled by employers’ desire to outsource their employment rights obligations, to drive down wages and in particular to undercut the pay and conditions negotiated by trade unions. One way that this happens is by employers and agencies exploiting a loophole in the Agency Worker Regulations which means that agency workers employed on permanent, pay-between-assignment contracts lose out on equal pay.
Some agency workers on these contracts are paid as much as £145 less per week than permanent staff they work alongside doing the exact same job. For example, agency workers in one publishing company are paid £6.50 an hour whilst the permanent employees receive £9.50 an hour.
During Decent Jobs Week the TUC is calling for this loophole to be closed and is demanding that such exploitation comes to an end.