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Temporary Agency Workers

GMB — campaigning at European and UK level for a fair deal for temporary agency workers.

The Temporary Agency Workers Directive was finally adopted at EU level in 2008 and implemented in the UK through the Agency Workers Regulations 2010, which came into force on 1 October 2011.

GMB and TUC had concerns that the UK Government implementing regulations did not reflect the spirit of the EU Directive in several areas, opening up the scope for avoidance and exploitation of agency workers (see GMB responses to Government consultations in the Additional Resources below).

A particular concern was the 'Swedish derogation' of permanent contracts with the agency, which is being abused and is denying workers equal treatment. The issue has become so serious that TUC submitted a formal legal complaint to the EU Commission in September 2013 — see their press release here. Responses to complaints are usually received within a year of submission, however the European Commission is still considering the complaint.

GMB members are suffering under this derogation, and in January 2015 we took the fight for exploited agency workers to the EU, with GMB shop stewards from the M&S Swindon depot meeting with Labour Members of the European Parliament and European Commission officials to explain how the ‘Swedish Derogation’ was being used to exploit and underpay them.

GMB agency workers meet MEPs
“Unscrupulous employers are using loopholes in the law to avoid treating agency staff equally” – Labour EU Leader and GMB MEP Glenis Willmott 

The MEPs were shocked to hear of the awful treatment our members had been suffering and commended them on their bravery for speaking out. The MEPs made clear they want to work with the EU Commission to take urgent action to improve the pay and conditions of agency workers and end this avoidance loophole being used by so many employers before it leads to similar exploitation across the EU.

For more information on our members' case, see our GMB Agency Workers briefing in the Additional Resources below.

The Temporary Agency Workers Directive also establishes the principle of equal treatment for agency workers from day one, giving them the right to the same basic working and employment conditions – including pay, working time, annual leave and maternity rights — as they would have had if directly recruited by the employer to the same jobs. Exemptions are limited and are only possible through collective agreements or, in specific situations, by agreement negotiated between the national social partners. This was the case in the UK, where the TUC and CBI reached an agreement in May 2008 which was instrumental in unblocking the deadlock regarding progress on the Directive at EU level which had existed since 2002. Under the terms of the TUC/CBI agreement, agency workers in the UK receive equal treatment after a 12 week qualifying period.

GMB has welcomed the 2015 European Court of Justice ruling in the first case to be brought on the EU Temporary Agency Workers Directive, by the Finnish trade union AKT. The Court recognises the right of trade unions and employers to regulate the use of temporary agency work in collective agreements, and highlights that temporary agency workers should only be used for specific, short-term tasks, and should not replace permanent employment.

Useful links and further information:

TUC on Agency 

UNI Global Union Temporary & Agency Workers website:

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Additional Resources

GMB Agency Workers Briefing (June 2015)

download pdf384Kb (pdf) - 09 June 2015

GMB organising Agency Workers

GMB response to BIS consultation (Dec 09)

download pdf166Kb (pdf) -

GMB response to BIS consultation on implementation of draft regulations of Temporary Agency Workers Directive (December 2009)

GMB response to BIS consultation (July 09)

download pdf219Kb (pdf) -

GMB response to BIS consultation on implementation of Temporary Agency Workers Directive (July 2009)