The agreed text, which is a hard-fought compromise between Parliament and national governments, aims to put temporary workers on an equal footing with their 'regular' colleagues in terms of pay, maternity leave and holidays from day one of employment.
Following successful lobbying by the UK and other governments, national derogations allowing employers to treat agency workers differently until they have been on the job for more than 12 weeks will be permitted, provided there is agreement between social partners. But the amended directive makes clear that such practices should remain the exception.
The new legislation, which was welcomed by all social partners and MEPs across the political spectrum, will also grant the three million or so agency workers across the EU equal access to employment and vocational training as well as childcare facilities.
MEPs also successfully inserted a clause obliging employers to inform their agency workers of the permanent employment opportunities they offer, but failed to retain provisions guaranteeing equal treatment as regards health, safety and hygiene at work.
Nevertheless, this was a compromise that parliamentarians said they were willing to accept in exchange for breaking the deadlock on the directive, which they had initially rejected in first reading in November 2002.
The directive will harmonise EU-wide legislation on temporary workers, which varies considerably between member states. In Germany, the Netherlands and Spain, the temporary work sector is essentially covered by general legislation, while in Ireland and the UK the protection in place is only very flexible. EU governments must now transpose the directive into national law within three years.