MEPs back stronger rights for temporary workers

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The European Parliament’s employment committee yesterday (7 October) approved a controversial directive putting temporary workers on equal terms with their ‘regular’ colleagues regarding pay and working hours from their first day of employment.

31 MEPs voted in favour, three abstained and only one voted against the text, which had been blocked since 2002, mainly due to reservations from the UK government over granting full equal rights to temporary employees before they have been in the job for 12 weeks. 

Under the agreed text, which is a compromise between Parliament and national governments, derogations from the equal treatment obligation would still be possible provided that there is agreement between social partners. But the amended directive makes clear that this should remain the exception. 

MEPs also managed to successfully insert guarantees on equal access to employment and vocational training in the text, but failed to retain provisions guaranteeing equal treatment as regards health, saftey 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 rejected in first reading in November 2002. 

If approved in plenary later this month, 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 rave only very flexible . 

German EPP-ED MEP Thomas Mann, who sits on the Parliament's employment committee, said he voted in favour of the directive because it will guarantee temporary workers "legal certainty", which in several EU member states still does not exist. 

UK Green MEP Jean Lamberts, who also sits on the employment committee, welcomed the adoption of the directive, which "sends a clear message to employers that if they want more flexible workers they also need to offer greater security".  

The legislation represents "an important building block in the 'flexicurity' debate and is essential for those who either choose to or are obliged to work in this way," she added.

The issue of equal treatment for agency workers has been on the EU agenda since the early 1980s, when the Commission first proposed a directive granting them equal rights to those of permanent workers. 

However, the planned directive never came into being, mainly due to the resistance of consecutive UK governments, which feared that the country's highly deregulated labour market might not benefit from granting statutory rights to agency workers. 

But in May 2008, UK social partners and the government broke the deadlock and agreed to grant equal treatment to agency workers, clearing the way for an EU directive on the issue (EURACTIV 21/05/08). 

  • 21 Oct. 2008: Parliament set to vote on the directive in plenary. 

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