Agency workers face pay discrimination and want more rights, says new TUC poll

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date: 27 July 2009

embargo: 00.01hrs Tuesday 28 July 2009

A new survey of agency workers published by the TUC today (Tuesday) shows that it is not just low paid and unskilled agency workers who face discrimination and poor treatment at work. With the recession and growing unemployment forcing more and more people to accept temporary work, there is strong demand from agency workers for better rights and complaints of bad treatment right across the skill and income spectrum.

The YouGov survey, commissioned by the TUC, interviewed over 2,700 people who are temps or who have done agency work in the past year. It is not possible to construct a representative sample of agency workers in a straightforward poll such as this and better paid and higher skilled workers will be over-represented, while low-paid and low-skilled workers (including migrant workers) are under-represented.

The poll explodes myths and stereotypes about agency working. Far from being women office temps who enjoy moving from job to job every few weeks:

  • There were almost equal numbers of men and women in this sample who work or have recently worked through an agency (1,065 men to 1,051 women);
  • Less than one in four (23 per cent) said they worked through an agency 'because they enjoyed the lifestyle';
  • Nearly one in three (32 per cent) said they would rather have a permanent job but couldn't find one;
  • Only one in four (26 per cent) said their assignments were usually four weeks or shorter;
  • One in four said (25 per cent) said their assignments were usually six months or more.

The survey is being released as the Government consultation on giving agency workers equal treatment to directly employed staff after a 12-week qualifying period closes on Friday (31 July).

Respondents were asked to write their message to a Government minister considering giving temps better rights. There were 1,138 responses to this particular question and the TUC's analysis of all the responses grouped 18 per cent asking for improvement in pay and working conditions; 18 per cent asking for equal treatment with permanent staff with regards to pay, conditions or more rights in general; 17 per cent calling for entitlement to paid sick leave as well as holiday pay; and 14 per cent wanting better security in terms of an improved notice period.

These are some of the things they said:

  • 'Equal pay and conditions for the same job';
  • 'Equal rights as full time workers';
  • 'A requirement that agency workers are paid the same as a permanent member of staff in the same role, a retainer between jobs and to be treated as a normal worker';
  • 'I feel that agency workers should be made aware of the basic salary of permanent workers to ensure they are being treated and paid fairly';
  • 'Paid training if necessary for the job';
  • 'Employment rights against unfair dismissal';
  • 'Agencies should provide proper training for their workers and teach new skills';
  • 'After 12 months continuous employment in the same role, at the same firm, the position should be made automatically permanent'.

One in three (33 per cent) respondents to the YouGov survey said that directly employed staff were paid more than temps for doing the same work, and nearly one in three (28 per cent) said they lost out on overtime and unsocial hours payments.

Nearly half (46 per cent) of the sample said they received less holiday entitlement. Some workers found it hard to take any holidays at all due to the need to be available for assignments when offered by the agency, and others said they lost out compared to directly employed staff. Some of the messages in the survey were: 'Never sure when I can take time off'; 'Unpaid holiday leave'; and 'No holidays. I haven't had a break for years and it is taking its toll on my health'.

Three in four (75 per cent) of respondents said temps were entitled to less redundancy pay than directly employed staff. The absence of redundancy pay makes it very difficult for agency workers to plan financially or cover bills between assignments, says the TUC. In recessions, temps are usually the first to be laid off and large numbers of agency workers can be laid off at the same time - as happened recently at BMW in Cowley.

The lack of redundancy pay for temps, even for those who have provided years of service for the same employer, can have devastating effects on financial security, says the TUC. Concerns raised by respondents were: 'Insecurity, when work levels drop, first to be discarded'; 'No job security, treatment by agency, thought of as second class'; 'No security, no holiday or sick pay, no redundancy pay, no internal training'; 'Can be difficult to obtain credit as temporary work is seen as very insecure and a risk for creditors'.

More than two in three (70 per cent) of the respondents to the poll reported that temps were entitled to less maternity pay than directly employed colleagues. Many employers do not extend workplace maternity schemes to temps. Lack of access to maternity pay is a clear contributor to child poverty in households where mothers are involved in agency work, says the TUC.

Nearly half (43 per cent) of the sample said that they had less access to on the job training or paid time off for training than staff directly employed by the employer.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: 'There is nothing wrong with agency work. There will always be some people looking for short-term jobs and employers who need short-term staff. What is wrong is when employers use agency staff to undermine pay and conditions and fill permanent jobs with staff who only have temporary rights.

'Even though our poll will not have captured the experience of many of the most vulnerable workers, it still reveals abuse and bad treatment for a significant proportion of agency workers.

'The survey shows that many employers are using the lack of employment rights and insecurity of agency workers to treat staff badly - to pay them less, to give them less holiday pay, to get out of paying them redundancy or maternity pay, and to neglect their training and development.

'This is why the TUC will be calling for the Government to introduce a fair deal for agency workers when implementing the Temporary Agency Worker Directive in the UK. Agency workers must have the right to equal treatment on pay, including basic pay, bonuses, and redundancy pay, and to equal treatment on holidays and working time.

'The Government must treat the introduction of the new regulations as a priority, to ensure that agency workers are protected and that the exploitation of temps by rogue agencies ends as soon as possible.

'The new laws must provide real protection for the UK's hundreds of thousands of agency workers, and any loopholes which would allow unscrupulous employers to avoid the law and to undercut reputable firms must be closed.

'The 12-week qualifying period for equal rights for agency workers must be tightly defined, so employers cannot get round the law by hiring temps on a series of short-term contracts, or moving them to different assignments in the same workplace.'


- All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,707 adults, 2,116 of whom are currently working through an agency or have done so in the last year. Fieldwork was undertaken between 22-25 June 2009. The survey was carried out online. This is not a representative sample of agency workers as it under-represents those on lower pay and in more vulnerable employment as they are less likely to be online, but as there is no accurately known profile of all agency workers it is not possible to weight the data to provide a representative sample.

-The full questions and answers referred to in the text are available at:

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Media enquiries:
Rob Holdsworth T: 020 7467 1372 M: 07717 531150 E: [email protected]
Elly Brenchley T: 020 7467 1337 M: 07900 910624 E: [email protected]

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