Five questions answered on the TUC’s line on agency workers

A "flawed" directive.

The TUC, a trade union umbrella body, said today that the UK is failing to implement European rules designed to give equal pay to agency workers. We answer five questions on the trade body’s claim.

Why does the TUC think agency staff are being treated unfairly?

The trade body is complaining to the European Commission that agency staff are still being underpaid despite the government's implementation of the Temporary Agency Workers Directive, which came into effect two years ago. It called the implementation of this directive “flawed”.

What else did the TUC say?

It argued that agency staff working at a company for 12 weeks or more are entitled to be paid the same as permanent staff.

It said an exemption meant that if a worker was directly employed by an agency the company did not have to pay that worker the same rate of pay as a staffer - although they do get paid for at least four weeks between assignments.

It added that there has been a big rise in these types of contracts, with more than one in six agency workers now on them.

What does the TUC want exactly?

The TUC says it wants the government to ban these contracts and has asked the European Commission to investigate the problem.

General secretary Frances O'Grady speaking to the BBC said: "The recent agency worker regulations have improved working conditions for many agency workers without causing job losses.

"However, the regulations are being undermined by a growing number of employers who are putting staff on contracts that deny them equal pay.

"Most people would be appalled if the person working next to them was paid more for doing the same job, and yet agency workers on these contracts can still be treated unfairly," he added.

What has the government said?

"We worked closely with both employers and employee organisations to successfully implement the Agency Workers Regulations," the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills told the BBC.

"We will of course consider carefully any information the TUC presents to the European Commission."

What do recruitment experts think about the matter?

Kevin Green, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, told the BBC the issue was not a loophole but a "legitimate part of the legislation".

"Agency workers have benefited since these rules came in," he said. "There are lots of things our members were unhappy with in these regulations, there was clearly a compromise made.

"The key thing is to get people into work, to make sure you're creating jobs, if you start unpicking regulations because you decide you don't like them, then you risk creating uncertainty, undermining employers confidence and end up with fewer people in work."

Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for

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David Cameron’s speech: a hymn to liberalism from a liberated PM

The Prime Minister spoke with the confidence of a man who finally has a full mandate for his approach. 

At every one of his previous nine Conservative conference speeches, David Cameron has had to confront the doubters. Those Tories who rejected his modernisation of the party from the start. Those who judged it to have failed when he fell short of a majority in 2010. Those, including many in his own party, who doubted that he could improve on this performance in 2015. Today, rather than confronting the doubters, he was able to greet the grateful. As the first majority Conservative prime minister for 18 years, he rightly savoured his moment. "Why did all the pollsters and pundits get it so wrong?" he asked. "Because, fundamentally, they didn't understand the people who make up our country. The vast majority of people aren't obsessives, arguing at the extremes of the debate. Let me put it as simply as I can: Britain and Twitter are not the same thing." Labour should pin that line to its profile. 

With a full mandate for his approach, Cameron went on to deliver his most unashamedly liberal speech to date. Early on in his address, he spoke with pride of how "social justice, equality for gay people, tackling climate change, and helping the world's poorest" were now "at the centre of the Conservative Party's mission". A lengthy section on diversity, lamenting how "people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names", was greeted with a standing ovation. Proof, if needed, of how Cameron has changed his party beyond recognition. The former special adviser to Michael Howard, who avowed that "prison works", told his audience that prison too often did not. "The system is still not working ... We have got to get away from the sterile lock-em-up or let-em-out debate, and get smart about this." From now on, he declared, the system, would "treat their [prisoners'] problems, educate them, put them to work." 

There were, of course, oversights and lacuna. Cameron reaffirmed his commitment to a budget surplus but glossed over the unprecedented, and many believe undeliverable, that will be required to achieve it (and which may fail to do so). He hailed the new "national living wage" with no mention of the tax credit cuts that will leave the same "strivers" worse off. His "affordable" starter homes will be unaffordable for average-earning families in 58 per cent of local areas. But it is a mark of Cameron's political abilities that it was easy to forget much of this as he spoke. Like George Osborne, he deftly appropriated the language of the left ("social justice", "opportunity", "diversity", "equality") to describe the policies of the right. Cameron is on a mission to claim ownership of almost every concept associated with Labour. The opposition should not sleep easily as he does so. 

There was little mention of Labour in the speech, and no mention of Jeremy Corbyn by name. But when the attack came, it was ruthlessly delivered. "Thousands of words have been delivered about the new Labour leader. But you only really need to know one thing: he thinks the death of Osama bin Laden was a 'tragedy'". The description of Corbyn as the "new Labour leader" shows the Tories' ambition to permanently contaminate the party, rather than merely the man.

There are plenty of potential landmines ahead for Cameron. The comically lukewarm applause for his defence of EU membership was a reminder of how divided his party is on this issue. But today, he spoke as a man liberated. Liberated by winning a majority. Liberated by not having to fight an election again. Like a second-term US president, he was able to speak of how he was entering "the second half of my time in this job". Tributes to Osborne (the "Iron Chancellor) and Boris Johnson (greeted with a remarkable standing ovation) alluded to the contest to come. But whoever succeeds him can be confident of assuming a party in good health - and more at ease with the modern world than many ever thought possible. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.