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CAB - Number of temporary agency workers rises by 29% in a decade

The number of temporary agency workers has increased by 29% in the last 10 years, according to a new evidence which shows a shift in the country’s labour market.

A new report by Citizens Advice shows the number of temporary agency workers in England and Wales has risen from 230,000 to 297,000 since 2006.

For many people agency work is a route to employment, and for others it offers them the flexibility to take short-term jobs which fit around other responsibilities - such as childcare or studying.

The charity - which is investigating the impact of insecure work - says in the last year there has been a 20% increase in visits to its webpage which gives agency workers advice about their employment rights.

After 12 weeks in a role, most agency workers are entitled to an equal level of pay, holidays and rest breaks as their permanently employed colleagues.  But Citizens Advice has seen cases report cases where these protections are ignored.

An analysis of the 1500 agency worker issues the charity helped with in the last year revealed cases where agency workers earn less than their permanently employed colleagues, and are denied paid holidays and rest breaks they are legally entitled to.

Citizens Advice also helped with cases where people had their pay unfairly deducted including:

  • A worker who was docked £500 insurance costs for an accident that was not their fault

  • £320 was taken from a worker for property damage that was not explained

  • An agency deducted 12% of a worker’s salary without written consent

  • One agency worker had £900 withheld for absences despite the fact they had been at work

  • One person the charity helped was docked £35 of their wage for not attending a Christmas party

There are as many as 800,000 agency workers in England and Wales including permanent, self-employed and temporary agency workers.  A permanent agency worker tends to be someone who only gets employment through agencies.  

Citizens Advice says the government could consider simplifying the enforcement landscape around workers rights and look at making larger employers publish information about the contractual makeup of their workforce.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Making work pay is the bedrock of a functioning economy.

“The government has made major improvements around work in the UK. More people have jobs than ever before and the National Living Wage is a true social justice reform. But the next step on the journey must be to look at the problems around insecure jobs including agency work because some people are being treated unfairly.

“Making larger employers publish the types of contracts their staff are on would ensure transparency and put pressure on bosses to make sure flexibility is only used where it is truly required.  Not only will it help employees get the rights they’re entitled to it would also level the playing field for those employers who are upholding people’s rights."

The report highlights how businesses could be more transparent about their workforce by publishing information including the proportion of the workforce who are agency staff, self-employed and on particular types of flexible contracts, such as zero hours. This could follow a similar model to the recent gender pay gap regulations, requiring organisations to publish data on an annual basis.

It also recommends creating a Fair Work Authority - a well-resourced, single enforcement body to give workers one clear place to report problems.  The current landscape is confusing with a number of organisations involved in enforcing rights of the UK’s workforce including: HMRC, Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, Health and Safety Executive, The Pensions Regulator, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority and the National Crime Agency.

The charity also highlights how the current system is underfunded, for example the HMRC team responsible for enforcing the National Living Wage has just 269 staff with a budget of only £13.2m to protect the wages of more than 30 million people.

View report: http://cita.maps.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=bcff8f49a433423d88396b9c0cf13b98

Notes to editors

  1. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local Citizens Advice, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.
  2. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
  3. To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice in England and Wales, visit citizensadvice.org.uk
  4. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers.
  5. Local Citizens Advice in England and Wales advised 2.5 million clients on 6.2 million problems in 2014/15. For full service statistics see our publication Advice trends.
  6. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 service outlets across England and Wales.
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