by Chris Phillips
The large number of energy companies making extensive use of specialist employment agencies will be forced to review their staffing policies in the coming months, as the EU moves to implement long-awaited reforms to the rights of temporary agency workers. Following its implementation towards the end of this year, the European Agency Workers Directive is set to deliver parity of working conditions and benefits between such workers and their permanent, directly recruited peers. So, what changes will need to be made on the ground and will the new rules bring about a more fundamental shift in the way the industry uses temporary workers?
The directive applies to any individual who has an employment relationship with an agency – or certain other contractual relationships, defined in the directive – but who is then assigned to work for a period of time with the ‘end user’ organisation. This could simply be for a matter of weeks, but, in many instances, agency “temps” have been found to work with the same end user for many years.
Following implementation into UK law, currently scheduled for November, all temporary agency workers will be entitled to at least the same basic working and employment conditions as they would have received, had they been recruited directly to do the same job. This principle of “equal treatment ” will, however, only come into force once a temp has been in post for 12 weeks, under an agreement brokered between the UK Government, the TUC and CBI.
Even so, the new rules clearly cut to the heart of how, why and when businesses choose to engage agency workers, prompting serious questions around equal rights of pay and working time, including weekly limits, rest periods, night work and holidays.
It is important to note agency temps will not be entitled to equal pay if they have a permanent employment contract with their agency and continue to receive pay between assignments, at a level to be set in the regulations. With this in mind, energy employers are widely expected to review their existing supplier arrangements and, if necessary, renegotiate these over the coming months.
The reference in the directive to a temp’s conditions being “at least” those of a direct hire will also be of particular interest to the energy industry, as it ensures temps who receive a higher rate of pay can continue to do so. This is most often the case for professional contractors, for example in engineering, who are not generally the sort of ‘vulnerable worker’ the legislation is intended to protect.
Training is another area organisations will need to consider, as the directive explicitly sets out to improve the provision of training and professional development for temps, even between assignments.
As is the case for fixed-term employees, under the proposals, temporary agency workers will also need to be told of permanent vacancies within the business.
Particularly for businesses operating and recruiting cross-border, greater uniformity between European member states’ employment law is generally to be welcomed. However, careful consideration will be required to ensure the use of temporary agency workers continues to deliver the flexibility, expertise and financial benefits which have made this approach so attractive in the past. Businesses must first understand the scope of the new legislation, then work toward a policy which mitigates risk and achieves a sensible balance between flexibility and fairness.