The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) have released their consultation documents on changes to agency workers rights. It can be found at http://www.berr.gov.uk/consultations/page51233.html and comments can be returned online or by post. Responses are due by June 2009.
Agency workers can be employed (by the agency), self employed, or employed via their own shell companies. As with all workers, it is possible for them to be employed for tax purposes and not for unfair dismissal purposes or vice versa.
The rights of agency employees are broadly the same as other employees. The principle difference being that they often have non working weeks when they are not on paid holiday or sick leave and this tends to mean they are not building up long service. Despite press reports, temporary workers accrue service and redundancy and notice rights as other workers do. The key difference is that their service may be fragmented by gaps between bookings.
The CBI/TUC agreement of May 2008 was that temps should get equal pay, rest times and leave (compared to permanent workers). There is no general right to equal pay in UK law. There is a right to equal pay by gender, but if two men (with no other discrimination issues) are doing the same job, there is no legal reason why they should be paid the same. If everyone is on minimum wage and statutory holiday and breaks, they will be equal anyway, but if the client employer pays more than this, the agency will have to factor this in when a booking goes over 12 weeks.
This may lead to an automatic end to bookings of more than 12 weeks and an increase in the data exchanged between client and agency before a longer booking is agreed. The consultation document seeks views on how far this should include self employed workers.