THE country’s 125,000 agency workers can expect the same terms and conditions as their full-time colleagues within two years under a directive on agency workers agreed in Europe yesterday.
While the EU council of social affairs ministers’ decision must go before the European Parliament, it is almost certain to be passed.
The new directive gives agency workers the same working and employment conditions that would apply as if they were recruited directly by the company rather than through an agency. The entitlements include equal pay, rights to pensions and sick-pay schemes and applies from the first day of employment.
It also gives workers the right not only to be informed of any vacant posts, but also for them to be given the same opportunity as other workers in the company to apply.
Predictably, employer representatives and the trade union movement are at odds over the decision to bring in the equal entitlements.
ISME, which represents small and medium-sized enterprises, said the introduction of the directive in Ireland would do extreme damage not only to small business flexibility but that it would not be in the interests of agency workers themselves.
ISME chief executive Mark Fielding said the bill would introduce yet more costs and another layer of bureaucracy that would not benefit business and in fact lead to the demise of the agency worker concept.
“This new bureaucratic burden will deter many companies from using agency workers as the significant increase in costs will ensure that agency work is priced out of the market,” he said.
Mr Fielding said existing employees would insist on maintaining the differential over the agency worker taking account of experience, loyalty and seniority.
“As the majority of smaller businesses use agency workers primarily as cover for other staff who may be on leave of absence, including maternity, sick and parental leave etc, the dramatic increase in costs will be completely unsustainable, especially when the agency fee, sometimes up to 30%, is factored into the cost equation, ” said Mr Fielding.
However, SIPTU general president Jack O’Connor said the EU directive would improve people’s rights at work in Ireland.
“Indeed, in the absence of the EU, working conditions in Ireland would still be very primitive,” he said.
“This decision will begin the process of alleviating the plight of tens of thousands of our most vulnerable workers. It will also help mitigate the degree to which their exploitation serves to undermine standards of employment in the economy generally here.”
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