An Acas study has revealed that agency workers are often unaware of their employment rights and are afraid of raising workplace concerns due to fears over job security.

The report entitled “Three sides to every story: the impact of the Agency Worker Regulations” analysed 900,000 calls to the ACAS helpline in 2014. 43% of those calls were from agency workers, while 28% were from employers.

The analysis revealed that, like zero hours contract workers, agency workers were often:

  • Unaware of their rights. Critically, agency workers were not aware of the right to holiday pay and to the same rate of pay as permanent staff after they have worked for a company for 12 weeks or more
  • Afraid of asserting their statutory rights due to the perceived imbalance of power in the employment relationship
  • Frustrated by “administrative” issues such as not being paid for the final assignment and not knowing who to chase for payment
  • Specific examples of the experience of agency workers treatment in the workplace include:
  • An agency worker who worked for social services and reported that she was coerced into working with vulnerable adults even though she had not received training in safeguarding and direct payments
  • A hirer who had employed an agency worker for two years but claimed that the conduct and performance of that worker had deteriorated. The hirer wanted to terminate the assignment immediately rather than follow standard good practice around performance appraisals or disciplinary procedures; and
  • Several workers who had not been paid for their work and did not know who to chase for their payment.

The Agency Workers Regulations 2010 were intended to improve protection for agency workers and redress the balance in an increasingly flexible labour market. However, as the ACAS report shows, some employers continue to avoid their obligations under the regulations to pay agency workers the same rates of pay as permanent staff through the use of Swedish derogation contracts. These apply where the agency worker is employed directly by the agency in return for giving up their right to equal pay.

Jo Seery, from Thompsons Solicitors, commented: “It is vital that the Swedish derogation loophole is closed so that agency workers can benefit from the protection they were meant to have under the Agency Workers Regulations.”

To read the study in full, go to: http://www.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/p/s/Acas-Employment-Relations-Comment-Agency-Worker-Regulations-March2015.pdf