Unite and the TUC have called for stricter legislation to prevent the exploitation of agency workers, after a study found that 1m people will be working for employment agencies in Britain by 2020.
Agency staff have grown by around a third since 2011, with the sector’s 865,000 man workforce now rivalling the number of people working on zero-hour contracts, the Resolution Foundation report said.
The think tank predicted that there will be one million agency staff in the UK by the end of parliament if the upward swing continues.
The foundation referred to agency workers as the “forgotten face” in the debate over insecure work, noting that a full-time permanent employee earns an average of £430 a year more than an agency employee working the same hours in the same role.
The “pay penalty associated with agency work” exists regardless of occupation, qualification level and age, the report said. This is despite legislation that states agency workers should be on the same wage as permanent staff after 12 weeks.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said that “agency workers don’t deserve to be treated like second-class citizens.”
She said, “Agency staff have fewer rights at work and are more vulnerable to exploitation. We need the government to toughen the law to create a level playing field. Too many employers are getting away with treating agency workers unfairly.”
Unite has campaigned against the exploitation of agency employees, most recently in aid of thousands of staff working under “Victorian” conditions at the Sports Direct Shirebrook warehouse.
Although the campaign – which helped secure thousands of workers £1m in back pay after they were paid less than the minimum wage and resulted in the company agreeing to an independent review of its working practises – was a success, Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said the exploitation of agency workers is endemic across the country.
“The increase in the number of temporary workers who can be hired and fired at will, without recourse to the defences those with permanent jobs are entitled to, is a blight on our nation. But for bad bosses who want to exploit their workforces it’s a dream come true,” Turner said.
“Despite an ever growing litany of scandals emerging from the shadowy world of employment agencies, this government has set itself against protecting some of the most vulnerable workers in the country. Cuts to enforcement bodies like the Employment Agency Standards Committee and the Health and Safety Executive have made a bad situation worse.”
“The Tories need to rethink their agenda towards workers’ rights and put in place legislation, and the means to enforce it, that protects people from exploitation,” he added. “But even if that does happen, we know from experience that workers’ rights are worthless without strong and effective trade unions to back them up.”