Brown tries to use EU to defeat agency workers rights

In an effort to avoid giving agency workers better legal rights, New Labour is trying to set up a forum of unions and bosses. Will the labour bureaucracy sell out agency workers?

Now obviously, I am opposed to the EU project – it is antithetical to workers’ rights and measures such as this have come from the labour movement, not the Eurocrats. Even if the UK was not a member, there would still be demands for better rights for agency workers and New Labour would be under pressure from unions and backbench MPs.

Brown like his predecessor Blair loves to talk of corresponding rights and responsibilities. Could anyone tell me why, if you have responsibilities from day one, you should not also have rights?

The FT reports:

The government is holding secret talks with the European Commission over planned EU legislation on agency staff after blocking the proposal, along with a handful of other countries, for four years.

The draft law would give temps full pay and conditions after six weeks in the job. Britain has argued that the legislation could impose costs on employers and make work less flexible. Business groups say temps should receive full pay after a minimum of six months.

But the UK has been left increasingly isolated in its opposition to the proposal, and when EU employment ministers met in December it became clear that most member states wanted to push for the measure to be approved.

A meeting with the European Commission is set to take place this week. The government is seeking confirmation that a forum the prime minister hopes to set up with unions and employers would allow the UK to “apply the directive flexibly,” according to an official

A derogation in the proposed EU law means its provisions do not have to be applied to every agency worker, where there are collective bargaining mechanisms in place to negotiate on the worker’s behalf.

The UK does not have the direct equivalent of such mechanisms. But ministers believe the forum would fulfil this function effectively.

Any agreement with Brussels could pave the way for a union-wide deal over the divisive legislation.

Gordon Brown has yet to get business or union agreement to his proposed forum. His government envisages the body would work along the lines of its low pay commission, agreeing the period of employment after which temporary and agency workers would be entitled to the same pay and treatment as permanent staff.

The Trades Union Congress said it was waiting for the government to clarify the proposed terms of reference of the new body.

Union scepticism will be fuelled by the news that the UK is trying to get reassurance from the European Commission that the body would mitigate the cost to Britain of the European measure. [Emphasis added.]

Hat tip: Ian

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