TEMPORARY WORKERS USED AND ABUSED – TUC urges protection against exploitation

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The ICFTU survey highlights the brutal exploitation of tea pickers in Sri Lanka
The ICFTU survey highlights the brutal exploitation of tea pickers in Sri Lanka

TEMPORARY workers in Britain are being paid illegally low wages, having unlawful deductions taken from their pay packets, and are being denied holiday pay – says a dossier just published by the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

The TUC has handed the dossier over to government ministers. It was published to coincide with a major TUC conference on the problems facing many of the 600,000 temporary agency workers in the UK.

The TUC attacked the view – ‘often expressed by government ministers and the employer lobby’ – that temporary workers did not need or want improved employment rights.

At the same time TUC leaders pleaded with the government ‘to listen to the tales of exploitation’.

The TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber defended ‘temping’ as ‘vital to today’s modern economy’, whilst pleading for ‘proper protection’ for agency staff. Without it, he said, ‘too many agency temps are suffering working practices from the dark ages.’

In the TUC dossier, ‘Life on the Edge’, names were changed and some details omitted to protect workers’ identities.

‘David’ said he had been working for the same company, through an agency for over nine years.

‘Despite numerous false promises that I would be able to work permanently for the company, this has never materialised. . .

‘I have been denied access to training and have now become trapped where I am.

‘My role is now being advertised internally and I’ve been told I am not allowed to apply for it.’

‘Nathan’ temps as a machine operator on an assembly line.

He said: ‘Training in health and safety is not given to agency workers.’

‘Geraldine’ said: ‘My partner found temporary employment with an agency which asked him to call every day at 5pm to see if any work was available the next day. . .

‘He worked for the agency for one day, after which they told him there was no more work for him. . .

‘He received his payslip long after having worked with the agency, and found that he had been charged £3 for transport and £15 for some boots.

‘His calculated hours of work for the day were 7.16 hours.

‘His net pay for the day was £16.73, just £2.34 per hour.’

‘Rebecca’ said: ‘Myself, and a few of my colleagues are temps who have worked for the same company through an agency for four years.

‘The company won’t employ us properly and the agency will not ask them for permanent contracts for us all.

‘We receive no sick pay, no pension scheme and have not had a pay rise since we started.

‘We are told by the management that the company isn’t recruiting but there are jobs advertised in the local newspaper.

‘We have no rights and no-one to turn to.’

‘Larry’ said: ‘I have been working for a public sector employer for over two years on a contract that has been renewed over and over again.

‘I have just been told by the employer that my job is being advertised internally and that, because I am a temporary agency worker, I cannot apply for the job. . .

‘I have missed out on pension schemes, sick pay and pay rises for over two years.’

‘Rita’ said: ‘I am currently temping and recently found out that my basic hourly rate could be at about £2 less than a permanent member of staff would get for doing the same job.’

‘Chris’ said: ‘I have been working as a temp in a factory.

‘Last week due to lifting heavy boxes and using the barcode gun, I developed pain in my wrist and it started to bruise.

‘I saw the doctor on the Monday and she said it was a torn ligament.

‘The factory have told the agency to replace me. . . so now I have no job and do not know if my wrist injury is permanent.

‘The agency said they will pay me Statutory Sick Pay but they will not contact me for work again.’

The dossier also includes stories from temps compiled through a TUC North West region survey, which include:

• ‘Being talked to in a derogatory way by supervisors and feeling that, if you answered back, at the end of the shift you would be told “don’t come in tomorrow, you’re finished’’.

‘Of course agency workers can join a union, but the fact that you were a member would, in the employer’s eyes, say “bolshie’’.

‘They would just tell the worker he or she is unsuitable and get rid of them.’

• ‘The wages are appalling! Take home pay is £160 per week.

‘I know from a manager that they keep pay low to encourage us to do overtime, but there isn’t any, unless it’s a peak time of the year.’

The dossier also includes cases of temps taken up by the TUC’s migrant workers project:

• ‘The contracts issued to workers recruited from Poland by an agency supplying temps to the security industry stated that the workers would be required to work a minimum of 56 hours per week and such additional hours as considered necessary to meet business needs.

‘There was no direct mention of the workers’ legal entitlement to a maximum 48-hour week, instead a clause in the contract stated that the worker “acknowledges that he/she will be required to work in excess of 48 hours per week” and has to give three months’ notice to opt-out of this requirement.’

• ‘An agency which supplied workers to the hotel and catering industry claimed that the £4.50 per hour it paid to a chambermaid was lawful, despite being below the adult National Minimum Wage at the time of £4.85, saying it was a “training rate’’.

‘A development rate of at least £4.10 did apply to workers undergoing accredited training, i.e. a course which leads to an approved external qualification.

‘However, in this case the agency had simply “phoned the hotel housekeeper to ask if she could train the chambermaid to help her out’’.’

• ‘A temp supplied to a food factory was regularly working a 12-hour shift, five times a week, with a break of one hour during each shift.

‘For this she received £150 per week. Because she was not given any payslips, she was unable to identify which deductions were being made from her pay.’

The TUC said: ‘The Temporary Agency Workers Directive, which would give UK temps the right to the same pay and basic employment protections as if they were directly employed by a company, has been put on hold at a European level after countries failed to agree on the proposals.

‘The status and future of the Directive is unclear as it is now included in an EU review of proposed legislation, although the UK government made a manifesto commitment to seek early agreement on the proposals to protect Europe’s temps.’