Data from de Poel, which says it is Britain’s “ number one procurer of temporary agency labour”, reveals that the use of temporary staff rose by 13 per cent in January compared to the same period last year. The company says its figures “show that temporary workers are a popular choice as businesses continue to operate within an unstable and unpredictable economy”.
The rise comes despite concerns that the Agency Workers Regulations (AWR), introduced in October 2011 following a European Union diktat, would deter companies from using temporary staff. The AWR grants temporary staff the same pay, holiday and working time rights as permanent employees after 12 weeks in employment.
There are now some 2 million agency workers in Britain, an ever-increasing proportion of Britain’s estimated 28 million workers. The Arbitration and Conciliation Service (ACAS) believes a significant number, estimated as being more than 34 per cent, are migrant workers, especially from Eastern Europe.
Broken down by sector, de Poel’s data shows that the biggest rise in temporary usage was in manufacturing, up by 35 per cent, with the business services sector up by 33 per cent. There was a 19 per cent rise in the care sector, and 13 per cent in construction, showing “the industries’ need for a flexible and contingent workforce”.
The British government resisted these regulations for many years, arguing they would undermine flexibility of employment. In fact, the surge in agency employment seems to be continuing. For their part, the British trade unions pleaded for them: in their defeatism, they essentially regard casual, agency and zero hours contracts as an established fact of the workplace. Has capitalism got so far into young workers’ minds that insecurity, no permanency of employment, no responsibility are seen as acceptable, if not the norm?
While the British trade unions grovel for legislative succour we see a different response from trade unions elsewhere in Europe. Norway, which is not a member of the European Union, belongs to the EU-associated European Free Trade Association along with Iceland and Liechtenstein. What EFTA effectively means is that though Norway has rejected the EU and 76 per cent of Norway’s population have expressed such a view in recent opinion polls, EU regulations and directives take priority over Norway’s laws.
The proposal to implement the regulations in Norway produced a different response from the Norwegian union movement. Seeing it as an attempt to undermine permanent employment – unemployment in Norway is amongst the lowest in Europe – the Norwegian TUC responded by calling a general strike in January. ■