Britain recruits allies to defeat temporary work rules

Britain is leading a staunch offensive against new employment rules that would give temporary workers the same pay and conditions as permanent employees.

The controversial Agency Workers Directive is legislation the Dutch EU Presidency has said it wants agreed by member states by the end of the year.

But Britain has said the temporary labour market will suffer unless regulations are watered down significantly, and only then will it consider lifting its block on the directive.

Figures reveal the nation has two thirds of all temporary workers in the EU, with 160,000 job opportunities to be lost if the rules are agreed, according to the CBI.

In the UK alone, there are one million temporary professionals employed on any given day of the year.

Gerry Sutcliffe, minister for trade and industry, told an EU council that deep concerns remain about the proposal, which in effect, was stalled through British protest in June 2003.

He said Britain is willing to keep talking about the directive, with the debate likely to be on the period before a temp transfers into an employee, currently implied after six weeks.

Recruiters and IT staffing agencies have highlighted the six-week deadline as one obstacle, likely to create a great deal of bureaucracy for employers and agencies.

Originally, the directive was introduced to stop exploitation of temps, but has been now condemned for offering full pay and holidays from the first day of agreed temporary employment.

Britain has told the EU council that a qualifying period of a year should instead be complete before such status is due.

"We want to see a directive which meets and reflects different employment realities for member states," said the DTI.

The mission statement has already appealed to Germany, Poland and several new accession states, which are backing Britain in opposition.

Such a coalition is proving unpopular for the Dutch in particular, who insist they "really want an agreement" but are worried the rules could undermine Britain's liberal labour laws.

Despite this, it is understood member states do have the power to pass any new European Commission Proposal under a qualified majority.

 

6th October 2004

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