Better than nothing, obviously. Will benefit around half a million workers, so a step in the right direction. But crucially only because Labour is at a weak point and only because the EU is pushing for legal harmonisation:
Agency workers will be given the same employment rights as permanent staff after 12 weeks under proposals agreed between the government and unions.
Ministers plan legislation this autumn to guarantee agency staff equal treatment but this depends on a similar EU directive being passed before then.
Unions, which have campaigned for the measure for years, said the agreement offered much stronger legal protection.
The Morning Star comments:
Fruits of flexibility
(Tuesday 20 May 2008)
IT is understandable that the trade unions that have been pressing incessantly for the government to honour its 2002 Warwick agreement undertakings should celebrate the tripartite accord on agency workers.
But it is equally important not get carried away, imagining that what the government and its big business friends have grudgingly conceded matches trade unionists’ aspirations.
Trade unions remain committed to employment rights from day one, in line with late Labour leader John Smith’s pledge in opposition.
And this agreement imposes a 12-week qualifying period of employment and also omits any reference to sick pay and pensions.
Alarm bells should ring when CBI deputy director-general John Cridland describes it as “the least worst outcome available for British business.”
Business Secretary John Hutton, who yields to no-one in his worship of big business, attempts to straddle a gap of Grand Canyon proportions when he invokes “our twin objectives of flexibility for British employers and fairness for workers.”
New Labour’s obsession with economic flexibility lies at the heart of organised labour’s problem with winning workplace rights.
Flexibility collides with trade union rights and employment security and new Labour invariably adjudicates in favour of flexibility.
Mr Cridland’s recognition that half of all agency placements last less than 12 weeks indicates that this accord will be less than all-encompassing.
In addition, although there is broad agreement on the need to prevent repeat short-term contracts being imposed on individual workers as a way to sidestep the legal provisions, employers will not be short of ideas on how to do so.
The problem with referring to agreements such as this as a breakthrough is that, as far as the government and employers are concerned, it is job done, game over. They are neither looking for nor expecting ongoing improvements in the conditions of grossly exploited agency and temporary workers.
Nor are they upset by the effect that the inferior conditions applied to this considerable section of the workforce has and will continue to have on permanent staff.
To new Labour and the bosses the insecurity and weaker bargaining power of unionised workplaces are the fruits of flexibility, which lay the basis for greater profitability.
Given Labour’s current electoral meltdown, losing over 330 council seats in the English and Welsh local elections, suffering defeat in the London mayoral poll and facing humiliation, if the opinion polls are to be believed, in Thursday’s Crewe and Nantwich by-election, some party strategists are suggesting that a hand of friendship be extended to its previously ignored support base.
This would explain the tax threshold changes to attempt to compensate for the 10p-tax-band-abolition debacle and this latest measure to help some agency workers. But it would be a mistake for the people around Mr Brown to imagine that these baby steps would be regarded by out of sorts Labour voters as a giant stride forward.
It would be equally unwise for trade union leaders to make such declarations on Labour’s behalf.
To take the wheels off the Cameron bandwagon will require the derailing of the new Labour project, putting the rights and living standards of working people before those of big business and the rich.