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New rights to be given to agency workers in Northern Ireland…


Mark Jackson

The Department for Employment and Learning has confirmed that temporary agency workers in Northern Ireland will be given important new rights under the EU Agency Workers Directive – see link.

The Employment and Learning Minister, Dr Stephen Farry, has indicated the Department will bring the necessary legislation into effect by 5 December 2011.

It is likely the legislation will largely mirror the English equivalent, the Agency Worker Regulations 2010, which come into operation in England and Wales on 1 October 2011.  Those Regulations give temps and agency workers some of the same rights as full-time staff from their first day on the job.  After 12 weeks in the same job, as indicated by the Minister, the new regulations will grant temps the same pay and overtime rates as your permanent employees, as well as paid holiday.

It is estimated that one half of temp assignments are longer than 12 weeks, and the Department’s own website indicates there are some 22,000 temporary agency workers in Northern Ireland.  That means a considerable number of businesses in Northern Ireland will be affected.

So, if you employ temps for more than 12 weeks at a time, are there any steps you can take to prepare before 5 December 2011?

Whilst the new regulations are yet to be published, there are some basic points to note now based on what the regulations will/are likely to include, and some items of good practice that could be put into place now:-

A – Make sure staff who use or have responsibility for employing temps are aware of the proposed changes.  After 12 weeks an agency worker should be treated as if they had been recruited by you directly.  Make sure staff dealing with temps are aware of the likely cost impact – if an agency worker is kept on for a few weeks longer than planned and goes over the 12 week period, costs will rise to provide them with paid holiday, etc.

B – Establish that the temps you hire are really necessary. If you regularly hire temps for more than 12 weeks because you are understaffed you may find the new regulations will mean you’re no longer saving money by taking on temps instead of permanent staff.

C – After the 12 week period, you will be responsible for making sure your temps are getting access to all the same facilities at work as permanent staff.  Make sure agency workers are kept informed.  If they don’t have access to the same facilities it could be found you are not treating them equally and you may be liable to legal action.

D – Any changes you make to the terms and conditions of permanent employees must be mirrored in contracts with temps who have been employed for more than the 12 weeks – especially to ensure those temps have the same perks and benefits, as otherwise you may fall foul of the equal treatment requirement.  After the 12 week period, pregnant agency workers will need to be allowed to take paid time off for ante-natal appointments.

The above general points should help when considering how to prepare for the new regulations, based on what those regulations are likely to contain.  Once the regulations have been published, then more specific advice can be given tailored to your particular circumstances.  Thompsons Solicitors can assist with providing such advice.  Please do not hesitate to contact us for further information.

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