Caught in a Trap –Temporary Workers Briefing
A Review of Temporary Contract Working
This briefing summarises the information published
in a new booklet issued by UNISON Scotland on temporary contract
working. The booklet is entitled "Caught in a Trap"
and it contains information on the legislation affecting temporary,
sessional, casual and agency workers and the issues facing them.
It also seeks out a positive way forward for branch activists,
UNISON members and employers through the use of stable staffing
Around two million temporary workers (and this includes
casual, sessional and agency) in the UK today are the victims
of employment loopholes, which leave them with low pay, stagnant
careers and uncertain futures.
And the reason is that they have become caught in
the temporary contract trap.
7.1% of workers are in temporary jobs and a number
of agency temps have according to statistics increased from around
70,000 in 1992 to 700,000 in 2002.
Over the last two decades there has been a marked
increase in the number of individuals whose working arrangements
are described as 'atypical'. Around 82% of union reps have also
reported that the number of people employed on temporary contracts
in their workplace has increased in the last ten years. These
include fixed term contracts, agency, casual and sessional.
This huge increase in temporary workers and the
recent introduction of employment legislation such as, the Fixed
Term employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations
2002, the EC Fixed Term Work Directive and the Employment Act
2002, has combined to make this issue important to both employers
and trade unions.
Temporary workers traditionally report lower levels
of job satisfaction, receive less work-related training and are
less well paid than their counterparts in permanent employment.
They also find it difficult to plan their financial future with
heavier penalties placed on loans and mortgages and they are usually
less geographically flexible and unable to have any sort of long-term
A survey carried out by UNISON Scotland found that
a number of workers had been trapped on the temporary contract
merry-go–round for anything between 20 to 30 years. Most were
women who never had the opportunity to return to permanent employment
after maternity leave.
A recent campaign by the Equal Opportunities Commission
highlighted the fact, that 30,000 women a year lost their job
as a result of having a baby. Many of them end up caught in the
temporary contract trap.
In periods of rapid technical change or demand volatility,
temporary contracts allow employers to hire and fire workers as
they wish and the duration of a temporary job is invariably short
of statutory requirements for redundancy. Workers on temporary
contracts can be costlessly laid off in a downturn. However new
legislation, mainly coming from Europe, is tightening up some
of the loopholes and the new UNISON booklet explores the issue
in some depth.
There are two key factors regarding legislation
and the temporary worker. The first is the type of contract. As
many flexible workers tend not to be 'employees' but 'workers'
this restricts the legal protection they enjoy.
The second is length of service as many key legal
rights require a minimum amount of qualifying service and this
is a test that flexible workers also struggle to meet.
In the UK the main pieces of legislation affecting
temporary contract workers include:
The Employment Rights Act 1996
The Part Time Workers (Prevention of Less
Favourable Treatment) Act
The Fixed Term Workers (Prevention of Less
Favourable Treatment) Act 2000
The Flexible Working Regulations 2002
Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment
Business Regulations 2004.
The most significant is the Fixed Term Employees
(Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002 which gives new rights
to people in fixed term employment.
The KEY points include:
FTE have protection against less favourable
treatment when compared with permanent employees.
FTE can compare their conditions to employees
who are not on fixed term contracts.
The use of successive fixed term contacts
will be limited to four years unless the use of further fixed
term contract is justified on objective grounds.
Any redundancy waiver that is included in
a fixed term contract which is agreed, extended or renewed
after October 1 2002 will be invalid.
At the heart of these regulations is the principle
of equal treatment and employers will have to review working practices.
What Branches can do?
UNISON recognises the ever increasing number of
people working on fixed term and temporary contracts and is committed
to ensuring that they receive the same equal and fair treatment
from their employers as their permanent colleagues. UNISON is
also committed to reducing the existing number of fixed term and
temporary contracts. To carry out these objectives UNISON believes
that the way forward for most organisations is the introduction
of a stable staffing policy through negotiation and agreement
Stable Staffing Policy
UNISON branches should negotiate and agree stable
staffing policies. This policy should provide guidance on a number
of issues including:
implementing the legislation
encouraging the recruitment of staff on indefinite
contracts as the norm and using fixed term contracts only
where there are transparent, necessary and objective reasons
for doing so.
Where possible introduce a ratio of permanent
workers to temporary workers or better still only use temporary
workers for maternity or ill health cover.
Correctly translate the legislation for both
members and employers and keep a regular track on workers
working under these circumstances to make sure all requirements
Encourage the employer to review and update
staff development policies to ensure they address the changing
role of staff.
The aim of a good stable staffing policy must be
to achieve a proper balance between flexible working and organisation
efficiency on the one hand and the security of the employment
and fair treatment of employees on the other. Departmental and
organisational objectives and resources will therefore vary and
it is recommended that trade union representatives identify in
partnership with their employers how the policy should be implemented
and how progress can be monitored.
From the outset it has to be recognised that many
departments and organisations have to operate in an ever-increasing
competitive market. Often they can depend on a range of funding
sources, some of them variable and insecure. They need to make
full use of modern and flexible work organisation and to adopt
patterns of work that will fit challenges in the future.
Caught in the Trap – The Temporary Workers Trap.
UNISON Scotland has published a booklet on the temporary
contract worker. It contains information on the legislation affecting
the temporary worker, the definition of a temporary worker/employee,
guidance on how to map the workplace and advice on setting up
a stable staffing policy within your organisation. It can be obtained
from the Policy and Information Team, West Campbell Street, Glasgow,
a PDF file from here (195k) (click
here for advice on pdf files)or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
@ the P&I Team
14 West Campbell St
Tel: 0845 355 0845
Fax: 0141 307 2572
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