I was an agency worker for six months after graduating, and felt like I was treated fairly by the agency at the time. But I didn’t have a clue about my employment rights.
The Resolution Foundation recently published a study that showed the dangers of not being aware of your rights as an agency worker. Collectively agency workers are underpaid by £400 million a year compared to their full-time counterparts, according to the study. Our own experience with the Acas helpline also identifies areas of concern. One in four calls in 2017 were complaints from agency workers revolving around them not being paid what they expected.
So we have decided to completely update our guidance for agency workers. The new version provides a thorough breakdown of the rights and responsibilities of an agency worker from the very start of the employment relationship through until it ends. This guidance should help to ensure that anyone who works for an agency can quickly understand what they are entitled to from their agency and from the organisation that hires them, and what their responsibilities are while working as an agency worker.
It should also be useful to agencies and any organisation that is currently using, or considering using, agency staff. It highlights what their obligations are and what to do if issues arise during the assignment. The guidance provides simple explanations about the employment status of an agency worker, explains who the agency worker is actually employed by and how umbrella companies can fit in to this process.
Perhaps most importantly, it includes a detailed breakdown of what an agency worker should receive from their agency before an assignment can begin. This includes details of who they will be working for and the nature of the business, the type of work they will be required to do, and the rate of pay and any other benefits they will receive for the role.
It also lays out all the main rights of an agency worker while on assignment, including pay, holiday, protection from discrimination and union membership, and provides details about how to resolve issues if they arise. In particular, the employment relationship in agency work can often make it unclear who should be contacted about the matter. The guidance therefore includes in what situations an agency worker should approach the hiring organisation and when they should talk to their agency.
Although most issues can be resolved informally, the guidance also includes how certain matters can be taken further if necessary. This could include contacting the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate if (for example) the individual is not paid for work they have done. Or it could involve making a claim at an employment tribunal.
Looking forward, the rights of agency workers may change once the government consultation on agency work comes to an end. The Taylor Review made several recommendations about agency work and so it will be interesting to see what actions the government takes once its consultation finishes.
With this guidance we hope that all those involved in the process will have a clearer understanding of the current rights of agency workers, ensuring better employment relations and fewer issues in the workplace.
Tom Neil is senior guidance advisor at Acas