By Alex Evans, Editorial Director, National Business Awards

From 1 October 2011, agency workers will have the right to “equal treatment” after 12 weeks in an assignment; but what does this mean for those that employ agency workers?

The law

The Agency Workers Regulations 2010 will apply to all temporary workers who have completed a 12-week qualifying period. At this point they will be entitled to the same basic working and employment conditions “as if” he or she had been recruited directly by the hirer on day one of the assignment.

The Regulations entitle agency workers to:

- Access to certain facilities and amenities from Day 1 (eg canteen, creche or other childcare facilities and transport services) on the same basis as comparable directly employed staff and to be informed of any relevant vacant positions with the hirer.

- “Equal treatment” after satisfying the 12-week qualifying period, the same basic working and employment conditions as if he or she had been recruited directly by the hirer.

Failure to comply with the Regulations may result in a claim at the tribunal. Compensation is subject to a minimum of two weeks’ pay, with awards for injury to feelings is expressly excluded. Where the agency or hirer attempts to prevent the worker from qualifying for equal treatment the tribunal may award compensation of up to £5,000.

What options do businesses have?

It appears that hirers are faced with a choice of two options. They can “take the hit” of the extra cost and administrative burden and comply with the Regulations, ensuring that the rights guaranteed to agency workers are available from day one. Alternatively, the employer could stop using agency workers, accept more staff overtime and rely on casual workers and contractors.

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