After a quarter of a century of discussions, the EU is on the brink of reaching an agreement on a Directive regulating temporary work after the UK seemed to soften its position on the issue, accepting the principle of equal treatment of temporary workers in exchange for liberalisation of the sector.
During the past 25 years, the UK has successfully managed to protect temporary work agencies’ ability to employ jobseekers who are worse paid and have lesser benefits in terms of job gurantees, holidays and social benefits than ordinary workers.
Many temporary work agencies, however, have seen the need to atract better-qualified personnel in order to compete with the regular labour market and get rid of the sector’s bad image. In February 2007, Eurociett, an industry federation bringing together the largest temporary work agencies in Europe, and UNI-Europa, the European branch of the global services trade union, published a sectoral joint declaration on agency work and flexicurity which recognised “the importance of reaching a fair balance between the protection of agency workers and enhancing the positive role that agency work may play in the European labour market”. In a number of member states, collective agreements heve been concluded between employers’ associations in the sector and trade unions.
Generally, these agreements are based on the principle of equal treatment between agency workers and permanent workers. Temporary work is also referred to in the Commission’s November 2006 Green Paper on “Adapting labour law to ensure flexibility and security for all” and in the June 2007 Communication “Towards Common Principles of Flexicurity: More and better jobs through flexibility and security“.
These initiatives have encouraged the Portuguese Presidency to make another attempt to break the deadlock. On 5 December 2007, employment ministers will debate the state of affairs, with a view to either finding a political agreement or at least hearing a progress report.
This time, ministers may find an agreement. The UK recently signalled its willingness to change its mind if that meant getting rid of collective agreements at national level, liberalising the sector across Europe and opening up new opportunities for temping agencies.
“If we can reach agreement on those three areas, I would be very optimistic,” UK Labour Minister McFadden told the UK parliament, saying that the government now “wants to reach agreement on the Directive.”