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Agency workers

While agency workers (often called ‘temps’) benefit from many employment rights, they will usually have different working rights from ordinary employees. As an agency worker, it’s important to know your rights and the rules about the way agencies should treat you.

What is an agency worker?

Agency workers work through an agency which finds them jobs. The firm who’s hiring the worker pays a fee to the agency, and the agency pays the worker’s wages.

There are several advantages to being an agency worker – you can:

  • use it as a stepping stone to the job you want
  • use it as a way if entering or re-entering the job market
  • use it to work more flexibly to help balance domestic responsibilities
  • move jobs easily and with little or no notice
  • try out different kinds of work

As an agency worker, you are covered by the National Minimum Wage, working time legislation and health and safety and social security provisions. However, flexibility for both worker and employer is one of the features of agency work – and this means that, just as agency workers have the flexibility to take up and leave jobs at short notice, employers also have the flexibility to finish temporary work without being liable for unfair dismissal or redundancy pay. But do check your contract as it may include a notice period.

There are important differences between temporary agency workers, and those who are hired on fixed-term contracts. If you’re an agency worker, your contract is with the agency, who must pay you even if the hiring company hasn’t paid them. However, if you sign a fixed-term contract with the hiring company, the agency isn’t responsible for paying you, and you have different rights. Make sure you know what kind of contract you’re signing so that you’re clear about your employment status.

Your rights as an agency worker

Agency workers are usually considered to be ‘workers’, not ‘employees’. Workers’ main rights are:

  • paid holiday, rest breaks and limits on working time
  • no unlawful deductions from wages
  • the National Minimum Wage
  • not to be discriminated against under any of the equality legislation

If you’re an agency worker, you have the right to Maternity or Paternity Pay, but not Maternity or Paternity Leave. You can get Statutory Sick Pay if you’ve worked for the same agency for more than three months. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) can help decide what you are entitled to.

Agency workers can sometimes be classed as ‘employees’. For example, if they’ve worked for the same firm for many years and have been treated in the same way as an employee by that firm. If there’s a dispute about whether or not you’re an ‘employee’, an Employment Tribunal will decide on the facts of the case.

There are special rules for agency workers on paying tax and National Insurance contributions.

Are you entitled to the same benefits as permanent staff if you do the same work?

Agency workers may not get the same perks as permanent employees and may not get the same holiday allowance.  You should check your contract to see what you might be entitled to, or talk to your agency. Unless you can show that you’re being unlawfully discriminated against there’s probably not much you can do if you are getting fewer benefits.

What to do if your agency isn’t giving you work

There’s not much you can do, unless you think your agency is unlawfully discriminating against you, or breaching your statutory rights. It’s up to agencies to decide who they put forward for work, and agencies tend to have more people on their books than they usually need in order to cover peaks in demand. Raise the matter with your agency – if the reason is a bad reference from an employer, they should explain this and let you have your say.   If the reason is that there is not enough demand for the sort of work you want, you might consider broadening the range of work that you are prepared to do.  If this fails, try joining another agency – there’s no limit to the number you can register with.

The rules governing agencies

Agencies are subject to a number of regulations – they:

  • can’t charge you a fee
  • can’t make you use fee-paying services (eg CV writing) as a requirement for finding you work
  • can’t stop you from taking a permanent job with a company where you temped, and there are limits on the fees they can charge the company (sometimes called ‘temp to perm’ fees)
  • have to give you written terms and conditions
  • can’t stop you registering with other agencies

Finally, if they’re an ‘employment business’ – a temp agency - they must pay you, even if they haven’t been paid by the firm you’re working for.

What to do if your agency breaks the rules

Employment agencies can be fined and banned from operating for up to 10 years by an Employment Tribunal if they don’t meet proper standards.

If you think your agency has broken any of the rules, contact the Employment Agency Standards helpline on 0845 955 5105 (9.30 am to 4.30 pm Monday to Friday). The EAS Inspectorate investigates every complaint it receives.

If the agency has breached the terms of your contract you can take action yourself through the courts. If the agency makes an unlawful deduction from your pay you can complain to an Employment Tribunal.

Where to get help

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) offer free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues. You can call the Acas helpline on 08457 47 47 47 from 8.00 am to 6.00 pm Monday to Friday.

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) can provide free and impartial advice. You can find your local CAB office in the phone book or online.

If you are a member of a trade union, you will also be able to get advice and support from them.

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