Agency workers – the forgotten faces

Research from the think tank Resolution Foundation has highlighted that there are currently 865,000 agency workers – this number has increased by 30% in the last five years. If this rate of growth continues, it is estimated that there will be one million agency workers by 2020.

Of late, zero hours contracts have dominated the headlines, but the think tank describes agency workers as the “forgotten face of the modern workforce” that deserve “serious examination” from the government.

Resolution Foundation recognises that there are valid reasons for employers and workers to use agencies, but they have expressed some concerns. After all, as workers, they are only entitled to certain employment rights and protections, such as the National Minimum Wage, paid annual leave, rest breaks and protection under Health & Safety laws. However, they are not entitled to all the rights given to employees, including maternity leave or redundancy pay.

The research also challenges the stereotypes associated with agency workers, mostly that they undertake short-term temporary roles. Resolution Foundation actually found that more than half of all agency workers work on a permanent basis.

Some other key findings include:

  • The use of agency workers is common in health and social work, manufacturing and business activities sectors. Business activities include consultant services, literary agents and conference organisers.
  • Three quarters of agency workers work full-time.
  • Women account for 85% of the increase in temporary agency workers.
  • Ethnic minorities are three times more likely to be agency workers than white workers.
  • Almost one in five are in London.
  • A full-time agency worker earns £430 per year less than an employee who is doing the same role. 

Government review

Back in October 2016, Matthew Taylor, the Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Arts, was asked to look at modern employment practices. Last week, it was announced that he and three other experts will conduct a six month review by travelling across the UK and speaking to employers and workers in sectors such as the gig economy and manufacturing, to review the UK’s labour market.

Matthew Taylor said “The review will consider the implications of new forms of work on worker rights and responsibilities – as well as on employer freedoms and obligations.”

We will keep you updated with developments.

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