The Agency Workers Regulations (AWR), sometimes known by its EU Level moniker, the Agency Workers Directive, is a complex piece of legislation as it is, but when you have to interpret the technical language used throughout the debate, getting to grips with its impact on you starts to feel like an insurmountable challenge. That’s why we’ve created this AWR and AWD jargon buster, designed to explain what the common terms used mean in plain English. If you have other terms you’d like to see explained, let us know and we’ll add them to the list.
Agency worker. An agency worker is a person who has a contract of employment with a temporary work agency and is supplied by them to work temporarily for, and under the supervision of, a hirer or client. They can also be known as temps, interims, contractors, freelancers or flexible workers and in the more heated moments of the AWR debate, as vulnerable workers. So for example, you are employed by Hays to go and work temporarily at Company X. Company X supervises you and tells you what work to do, but your contract is with Hays or an intermediary such as an umbrella company.
The traditional view of agency workers is of blue collar production line workers such as those caught up in the row between BMW/Mini and the union Unite in February 2009. However, an agency worker can range from those working in the agriculture and food production industries to temporary secretarial staff, or from jobbing actors through to highly skilled engineers working on North Sea oil rigs.
You are not classed as an agency worker if you run your own business eg a Limited Company and have a contract to supply your services to the temporary work agency in a business to business capacity. So using the example above again, you have a contract with Hays but go to work temporarily at Company X. Your company invoices Hays for your time and there is no contract of employment between you.
Temporary work agency. A temporary work agency is classed as a person or business who supplies people to a hirer or client to work there temporarily, under the supervision of the hirer, for a fee. Alternatively, a temporary work agency is a person or business who is responsible for paying or forwarding payment to such workers. In this definition, umbrella companies are included because a contract of employment exists between the umbrella company and the agency worker, but payroll bureaux are not. Temporary work agencies are also sometimes known as employment businesses, recruitment agencies, staffing companies, temp agencies or gangmasters depending on which industry you work in.
Hirer. Also known as the client or end client or sometimes mistakenly as the employer. This is the company who the agency worker is working for and who supervises them. The agency worker may have found their temporary job through, for example, Hays and be legally employed by Hays, but they would talk about working at Company X. The hirer pays a fee to the temporary work agency for the services of the worker.
Employment conditions. In relation to AWR, agency workers will be entitled to the same basic employment conditions as their comparable permanent equivalent after a qualifying period. In many debates, this gets referred to as equal treatment although equal treatment is not quite the same thing. The legislation is framed so that workers who would not previously have been afforded these rights, will now do so. But it doesn’t mean that those agency workers who have better employment conditions have to be treated equally eg if you are paid a higher rate than a comparable permanent employee, that won’t be affected. Employment conditions mean:
- Hours of work
- Night work
- Rest periods and breaks
- Right to hear about vacant posts with the hirer
- Right to use collective facilities such as the canteen, childcare facilities or transport services
The main employment conditions excluded from AWR legislation are:
- Occupational sick pay
- Parental leave
- Redundancy payments
- Share schemes and long service award schemes
Pay. This might seem like an obvious one but for the record, AWR legislation defines your pay as your basic pay for the work undertaken, holiday pay, overtime, shift allowances, bonuses, commission and stamps with a given monetary value eg luncheon vouchers. Bonuses are a slightly tricky one because under AWR, bonuses that are given to encourage your loyalty or for another reason not directly related to the work you’ve done, will not be included.
Assignment. Yes, it sounds like something handed to Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible but assignment is the common term used to describe the contract you’re working on. Where the assignment is more similar to a senior salaried role eg a 9 month contract for an HR Manager to cover maternity leave, it may also be referred to as a temporary or interim role.
Comparable employee. Also known as the permanent equivalent. This is the person in permanent employment with the hirer or client doing the same job. The agency worker will be entitled to the same basic employment conditions as the comparable employee assuming they are both being supervised and managed by the hirer, are doing the same work and usually, work in the same place.
Qualifying period. The qualifying period is the opt-out of the legislation that the British delegation negotiated with the EU. It means that the agency worker must work at the hirer for 12 weeks continuously before their entitlement to the same employment conditions as a comparable employee kicks in. If their assignment finishes before 12 weeks, they have no claim to the entitlement.
Structure of assignments. During the initial stages of consultation on the AWR legislation, many observers believed that an obvious loophole for the temporary work agency was to have a worker on assignment for 12 weeks, give them a day’s break and then start again on a new 12 week contract. The final legislation has closed this potential loophole and now includes stringent measures to ensure that assignments cannot be structured to avoid agency workers receiving their AWR rights.
Pay between assignments/Swedish derogation. This fancy sounding term relates to the opt-out clause negotiated by the Swedish delegation when the Agency Workers Directive was debated at EU level. It means that in the UK AWR rights to equal pay no longer exist where agency workers are employed on a permanent basis by the temporary work agency and receive pay between assignments. Sadly for the umbrella industry, it does not mean that umbrella employees will not be caught by the legislation in their current guise.
Gold plating. In the context of AWR, gold plating refers to the British Government going above and beyond the requirements of the EU legislation and introducing harsher or more stringent clauses, usually as a result of pressure from the unions who are seeking to protect vulnerable agency workers from exploitation.
Is there any other jargon that you’d like us to translate? Do you disagree with any of our definitions? If so, post your comment below and we’ll get straight back to you.