Out-Law News 2 min. read

Temporary workers treated as equals under new EU Directive

Temporary workers will receive many of the same protections as permanent staff because of the European Parliament's approval of a new European Union Directive. EU institutions have battled for six years over the issue.

Temporary workers will now receive treatment equal to that of permanent employees from day one rather than after a period of time. They will be given the same access to employer facilities and training, the European Commission said.

Europe's Council of Ministers agreed a political agreement on the Commission's proposals on temporary workers' rights in June of this year. The European Parliament voted on Wednesday to approve the measure.

"Today's vote is a major step forward for Social Europe guaranteeing protection for all agency workers in Europe," said Vladimír Špidla, EU Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs. "This agreement also shows that a Europe of 27 Member States can take decisions and deliver tangible benefits for all its citizens. And it demonstrates that when social partners find ways forward together, real benefits for both workers and businesses are possible."

The Directive will give temporary workers equal treatment in relation to pay, holidays and maternity leave as their permanent colleagues.

The Commission said that three million people in the EU are currently employed on temporary contracts through agencies. Other estimates put the number of temporary workers as high as eight million.

"Temporary agency work is typically accompanied by inferior working conditions in terms of pay, holiday entitlement, training and career development opportunities," said a Commission statement. "The legislation will bring an end to discrimination against temporary agency workers and ensure they have equal treatment with permanent workers from day one."

The Directive allows countries to opt out of the equal treatment requirements, but only if the social partners in that country, which will include workers' representatives, agree to it. The UK Government cut a deal with unions in May that gives temporary workers equal rights with permanent workers only after 12 weeks.

“This directive will not be welcomed by employers, but it is less damaging than previous proposals as key flexibilities that underpin UK competitiveness have been protected," Katja Hall, CBI director of employment policy, told Personnel Today.

“More than half of agency assignments last less than 12 weeks and will be unaffected. And while pay is included, occupational benefits that recognise the long-term relationship permanent staff have with an employer, like sick pay and pensions, are rightly excluded," she said.

The Directive also says that countries can restrict the use of agency temporary workers, but only if that restriction or prohibition is "in the general interest".

"Any continuing prohibitions or restrictions must be reviewed and made the subject of a report to the Commission," said the Commission statement. "The Commission reserves its right to take action if restrictions and prohibitions are not reviewed and justified in accordance with the Directive."

National Governments must now pass laws which put the Directive into action, and it will come into effect in three years' time.

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