The number of temporary agency workers has increased by 29% in the last 10 years, according to 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.