Career Clinic: Do agency social workers have the same rights as permanent staff?

Q: Do agency social workers have the same rights as permanent staff?

Richard Smith answers:

“Yes, the European Union has agreed in principle to a revised form of the Agency Workers Directive (AWD). The UK approved this directive, on the condition that it could keep its opt-out of the 48-hour week, enshrined in the Working Time Directive (WTD). The EU voted to end the UK’s 48-hour week opt-out within three years of the amended WTD going live. In December, the EU will vote to pass the revised directive, unless an earlier agreement is reached between MEPs and the Council of Ministers.

The directive aims to give agency workers the same pay as their equivalent colleagues who work on a permanent basis. Equal pay is to be introduced after agency workers have been in a position longer than 12 weeks. The directive is due to come into effect as of next year, with a three-year implementation phase.

The focus is now on how equal rights for agency and permanent employees will be applied in the UK. While this legislation is designed to protect temporary workers who feel exploited, it also makes agency work more appealing to others.

Questions remain about how the equal treatment of agency and permanent employees will translate in practice, and who is liable for ensuring compliance. The government still needs to address issues such as how agencies will ensure that they receive up-to-date and relevant pay data from their clients and how problems can be resolved without the cost and difficulty of employment tribunals.

Another important clarification needed to the legislation is about which benefits temporary workers will be eligible for and to whom they will be compared for equal rights. The AWD currently states that temporary agency workers will have basic working and employment conditions – as if they had been recruited directly by their current employer for the same position. This appears to include temporary staff employed directly without going through an agency, as well as permanent employees. However, because of the nature of temporary roles, there will be situations where no direct comparison is possible.

These issues must be resolved before the legislation is rolled out. If it is well-handled and improves conditions for temporary workers, then it has the potential to raise standards across the industry and attract more candidates. As an agency worker, the hope is that you will see your status and benefits improve as a result.

Richard Smith  is health and social care director, at social care recruitment firm Beresford Blake Thomas .

Next question:

With the festive season fast approaching we are starting to plan our team’s Christmas party. This year it feels like a bit of a chore – am I wrong to see it as a missed opportunity to catch up on my “to do” list rather than an important team-building exercise?

We will answer this question in the 11 December 2008 issue of Community Care. We want to publish your advice too – please send it to by 4 December.

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