Letter to the press
I refer to the ongoing debate on the exploitation of agency workers within the public service. I use the term public service advisably because while there are approximately 32 agency workers in the Civil Service, there are hundreds in the wider public service (e.g. the care agency and other Government agencies and authorities). That is worth bearing in mind when the Government commits itself to tackle the problem within the Civil Service but remains silent in respect of the wider public service.
Leaving aside our criticism of the Government on these issues, of which there are many, there is one issue that recruitment agencies could and should unilaterally deal with and it involves the huge injustice caused to agency workers (usually women) who have to, by necessity,take time off work in order to have and care for a new born baby but lose all their accumulated annual leave entitlements should they return to work with the same agency.
The reason for this is that an agency worker qualifies for about 1.25 days of leave per month that he or she is employed by an agency when placed within the public service. Over a year that works out at 15 days leave if the agency worker has worked a five day week for less than three years (18 days leave if he or she has worked 5 ½ to 6 days a week).
There have been a number of women that have come to see me recently who have been working for recruitment agencies for up to two years. They are now pregnant and need to take time off from their placement within the public service to have their babies. The problem for them is that not only are they not guaranteed a job when they are ready to go back, but they will lose all their accumulated leave entitlements even if they are employed by the same recruitment agency and placed within the same public authority.
With so many workers, often young people looking to start a family, working within the public service placed there through recruitment agencies, this state of affairs drives a coach and horses through very basic but fundamental rights to maternity and paternity leave.
Recruitment agencies do very well out of agency workers and they have made a lot of money over the last few years. The least they could do is ensure that if people are re-engaged their accumulated leave entitlement is not lost.
This is, of course, a separate issue to the equally serious issue for some of these agency workers involving zero hour contracts which for the reasons explained above impacts on whether they will even qualify for leave in the first place. Such contracts should be made illegal.
Daniel A Feetham QC MP