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Agency workers' rights come into force

Temporary agency workers will be entitled to the same employment and working conditions as those given to staff when the UK's new Agency Workers Regulations come into force tomorrow.30 Sep 2011

The new Regulations have been created to implement the EU's Agency Workers Directive and will give temporary agency workers the same rights to "basic working and employment conditions", such as pay and holidays, as directly employed staff doing the same work.

To be eligible for the equal rights agency workers must successfully complete a 12 week qualifying period. From 1 October the Regulations will apply to companies that hire agency workers and agencies that supply the temporary staff.

Under the Regulations employers must give agency workers access to facilities from the first day they are employed. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said that the facilities include the staff canteen and car parking, even when the facilities are not on-site, but said that companies did not have to offer 'enhanced' access rights to some benefits permanent staff receive.

In May BIS issued guidance on how businesses can identify what rights individual agency workers are entitled to. It recommended that employers compare agency workers to permanent staff in order to assess what they should be paid. It advised businesses to consult their existing documents, such as pay scales, contracts or company handbooks, to make sure the agency worker gets what they are entitled to.

"A comparator needs to be engaged in broadly similar work, but account can be taken of their skills and qualifications as this may justify a higher level of pay for the comparator," the BIS said in its guidance (50-page / 335KB PDF) on the new Regulations in May.

"They must work at the same or, if there is no comparable employee in the same workplace, in another of the hirer’s workplaces. They will not be a comparable employee if they are no longer employed by the hirer," the BIS said.

Earlier this month the Daily Telegraph reported that secretly-commissioned legal advice from the Prime Minister's office had concluded that the previous Government had "gold plated" the new Regulations with enhanced rights for agency workers that were not proscribed in the EU's Directive.

The newspaper reported that Martin Howe QC, an expert on EU law, told the Government that it had three choices if it did not wish to adopt the Directive in its entirety: to water down and delay the planned laws, to introduce new legislation in Parliament to overrule it or to ignore the Directive altogether.

Business groups have criticised the Government for going ahead with the new Regulations, claiming it undermined its policy of reducing the cost of regulator compliance to firms. The new Regulations will cost businesses more than £1.8billion a year according to figures from the BIS.

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