This article was written by Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent, for The Guardian on Monday 24th November 2014
Ed Miliband will pledge to crack down on “cowboy employment agencies” on Monday as he outlines a raft of measures that will ban exclusive recruitment of overseas workers and close loopholes that allow the wages of permanent staff to be undercut.
As new figures show that the number of people on temporary agency contracts is at the highest level since 1997, the Labour leader will pledge to end working practices which allow agencies to operate “in the shadows of our economy and on the margins of the law”.
Miliband will outline a three-point plan to:
• Close a legal loophole known as the Swedish derogation which allows employment agencies to pay agency workers a lower rate than permanent employees if they are paid between assignments. Labour says there is evidence that agency workers are sometimes paid the lower rate even when they work regular shifts.
• Ban employment agencies from recruiting exclusively from abroad.
• Force “rogue agencies” that exploit workers illegally to sign up to a licensing system. Authorities would have the power to revoke a licence if they are found guilty of misconduct.
Miliband will say: “We will not tolerate a zero-zero economy where hundreds of thousands are kept on zero hour contracts while a tiny privileged minority pay zero tax. And nor will we tolerate a world of work that is becoming more brutal because of the way some cowboy employment agencies have been allowed to operate. They are undermining dignity at work, driving down standards and creating greater insecurity for families.
“There has been a huge increase in temporary agency work in recent years. Many employment agencies play their part in supporting businesses, as well as workers, who want flexibility. But there is now overwhelming evidence that some are operating in the shadows of our economy and on the margins of law, damaging the basic fabric of British life that hard work should be properly paid.
“Even the industry itself is expressing concern that the number of rogue agencies have increased in recent years. They are breaking the law on the minimum wage, failing to pay their taxes, and exploiting workers to undercut the wages of permanent staff. These rogue agencies need to know their time is up and we will act.”
Miliband will outline his reforms after the latest official quarterly figures (July to September) showed a 36% increase in the number of temporary agency workers compared with 2009. There is a 20% increase compared with last year.
> It’d be nice if he’d also pledge to outlaw the necessity to sign up for Universal Jobmatch as a condition of receiving benefits (or the belief, fostered by Jobcentre “advisers” that you have to – I still haven’t).
Source – Welfare Weekly, 24 Nov 2014
More than £900 for a single shift?
That’s what a Teesside hospital trust paid to one of its agency workers for a single day’s work this year.
The North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust paid out £907 to a staffing agency for one person to do one 11.5 hour shift some time after December 2013.
That works out at £78.87 an hour.
The NHS spends hundreds of millions of pounds a year on temporary staff and is increasingly being forced to find cover at the last minute as government cuts stretch staffing resources.
Although the figure for the North Tees trust, which operates the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton, seems high, figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that hourly rates for agency staff can go up to as much as £540.
This massive figure was paid out by the North Bristol NHS Trust in 2011 to an agency for a temporary worker to cover a 10.25 hour shift – meaning their total bill for one day’s work from one person was £5,554.
Chief executive Alan Foster for North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust said:
“There are always going to be occasions where we need to provide cover for shifts at short notice and we have measures in place to keep our agency spend down to an absolute minimum.
“We have a mix of our own staff who sign up to work additional shifts through our nurse bank and people from outside the organisation, including other NHS organisations, who have a zero hours contract with us which allows us to call on them when we need to.
“It is good to have this flexibility so we can respond quickly.”
South Tees Hopsitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough, failed to provide a response to the Freedom of Information request.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 19 Sept 2014