The AWR has already come up on several occasions in the new parliament, with members of the opposition asking potentially tricky questions of new ministers in what could be interpreted as an attempt to make sure the new coalition doesn’t have an easy ride during its first few months in power.
At the beginning of June, Christopher Leslie, the Labour MP for Nottingham East, asked: “Many employers regard flexible working as involving the hiring of temporary staff-agency workers and so on. Will the Minister put it on the record today once and for all that there is no truth whatsoever in the reports in the Financial Times that his Government-the-coalition are planning to scrap protections for agency workers, which give them rights to equal pay after 12 weeks?”
Edward Davey, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Employment Relations, Consumer and Postal Affairs) and the Lib Dem MP for Kingston and Surbiton, responded: “I welcome the hon. Gentleman back to the House; I remember sparring with him in previous Parliaments. As a former Minister, he will know not to believe everything that he reads in the papers.”
A firm, if not entirely convincing response, however, not a negative response either.
Jon Cryer, the Labour MP for Leyton and Wanstead, made the following point in the House of Commons on 9th June: “Further to a number of questions asked during BIS questions, may we have a debate, or at least a clear statement, on the future of the agency workers directive, which would affect beneficially and give minimal protection to millions of workers in many constituencies, including my own? Before the election there was a clear commitment to enforce the agency workers directive. There seems to be some confusion in the new Government; that may be the product of having Ministers from different parties in the Department, but we need a clear statement so that we know where we are.”
To which Sir George Young, Leader of the House of Commons, responded: “I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that there was sometimes confusion between Ministers when they all came from the same party. On the serious issue that he raises, I understand that it was touched on during BIS questions, but I will ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to write to him, dealing with the specific question that he asks about the agency workers directive.”
Again, a strong response without giving a clear indication of the new Government’s thinking.
However, on 14th June, Edward Davey confirmed that the AWR will stay as it is.
In a response to a question from Lisa Nandy, the Labour MP for Wigan, about whether or not the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills planned to seek any amendment to the AWR, Mr Davey said: “The agency workers directive was proposed by the European Commission in 2002, it was finally adopted by the European Council of Ministers in June 2008 and by the European Parliament in October 2008.
“The final version of the directive was published in December 2008 and has to be implemented by all member states into national law by December 2011. Therefore we do not intend to seek any amendment as the directive has already been finalised.
“The directive does foresee a review by the European Commission in December 2013 in consultation with member states and social partners at European level to review the application of the directive. This may result in proposals for amendments. This is normal practice for similar directives.”
This will come as no surprise to those who have been following the evolution of the AWR as the fact that it has been agreed at EU level meant that there was little the new coalition Government could do to change the legislation. However, it is interesting that the opposition would also be aware of this and were perhaps looking to trip up new ministers with their views on temporary workers.