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Agreement at last on equal treatment of agency workers

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Agency workers who have worked for a company for at least 12 weeks will receive the same rights as their permanent counterparts, under a new deal reached between Government, unions and employers.

Agency workers will have at least the basic working and employment conditions that would apply to workers doing the same job but who had been recruited directly by the employer.

It is hoped this will lead to an agreement in Europe on the Agency Workers Directive, which is to be discussed in Brussels next month, which proposes that agency workers get equal treatment at 0-6 weeks. The UK Government is hoping to secure an opt-out of 12 weeks in the directive, to better suit the business needs of the UK.

Government is hoping the terms will be agreed so it can implement them in time for the next parliamentary session in September.

Further consultation will occur between the TUC, CBI and Government on the definition of equal treatment, compliance and anti-avoidance measures.

There has been an ongoing struggle between business groups and unions over the issue of extending agency workers’ rights, with business leaders worried an extension could render such workers obsolete. Unions, however, have been pushing for the extension, saying that many of these workers are exploited in the UK.

“This is the right deal for Britain,” says business secretary John Hutton. “Today’s agreement achieves our twin objectives of flexibility for British employers and fairness for workers. It will give people a fair deal at work without putting their jobs at risk or cutting off a valuable route into employment."