The independent think-tank Resolution Foundation, which campaigns on issues concerning low pay, has recently published a report suggesting that the number of agency workers is set to rise to 1 million by 2020, if the growth of recent years continues.
The report was published at the outset of the Foundation’s major 18-month investigation into agency work, which started on 05 December 2016.
In the report, titled “Secret Agents: agency workers in the new world of work”, the Foundation describes agency workers as “the forgotten face” in the recent debate around insecure work. Lindsay Judge, Senior Policy Analyst at the Foundation, commented that “while zero-hours contracts are often in the news, agency workers are the “forgotten face” of the modern workforce, despite being just as prevalent across the labour market”.
The report’s key findings were that:
• A full time agency worker earns £430 a year less than an identical employee in the same role. The Foundation said that this pay penalty could affect agency workers’ ability to provide for their family and save for the future;
• Despite the stereotype of agency workers being short-term and temporary, half of all agency workers actually say they work on a permanent basis and three-quarters work full time;
• The most significant sectors for agency work are health and social work, manufacturing and business activities;
• Close to one in five agency workers are to be found in London;
• 54% of all agency workers are male, but women account for 85% of the growth in the number of temporary agency workers over the last five years;
• Six in ten agency workers are UK nationals (EU nationals account for 22% and people from the rest of the world account for the remaining 17%); and
• Ethnic minorities are three times more likely to be agency workers than white workers.
The Foundation said that pay is not the only disadvantage faced by agency workers. The fact that they are typically classified as workers rather than employees prevents them from benefiting from significant employment protection, such as sick pay or parental leave pay. Agency workers also have limited recourse in the event of dismissal.
Lindsay Judge said that “with the prospect of higher inflation squeezing living standards in the years ahead it is important that the discussion of the non-traditional parts of work in modern Britain consider the relatively lower pay that workers receive compared to identical employees in similar jobs. This merits serious examination from government, with an official measure of workers being a good place to start”.
In light of the anticipated increase in the number of agency workers over the next few years, employers hiring agency workers ought to review their working practices and address any particular concerns, seeking legal advice where necessary. It is important for employers to ensure that they comply with the Agency Workers Regulations 2010 (“Regulations”), which provides agency workers with an entitlement to the end-user client’s collective facilities, and (after 12 continuous weeks of service) the same basic working and employment conditions as if they had been recruited directly by the end-user client. Any breach of the Regulations could lead to the initiation of Tribunal proceedings against the agency and/or the end-user client.