A growing number of industry bodies are vigorously at odds with the TUC’s complaint to the European Commission about the UK’s implementation of the Agency Workers Regulations (AWR), which it claims enables employers to circumvent obligations to grant equal conditions for agency workers through the ‘loophole’ of the Swedish derogation.

The model is widely used by the UK’s professional contracting community – from limited companies to Umbrella Companies – to exempt themselves from the regulations, as they are not vulnerable, low-paid workers and do not wish to be made unattractive to employers by being compelled to receive identical conditions to permanent staff.

The REC head of policy, Kate Shoesmith, dismissed as “wholly misleading” the TUC’s claim that pay between assignments (PBA) or Swedish derogation were loopholes. They are integral parts of the AWR that were put in place after lengthy consultations with the unions, she continued. Most workers, she said, are now “much better off” thanks to the AWR.

APSCo’s head of external affairs, Sam Hurley, reaffirmed the need to clearly recognise the balance between workers’ rights and commercial needs, and joined ARC chairman Adrian Marlowe in reminding the TUC that it had agreed to the PBA regulation.

Mr Marlowe repeated that the unions had agreed to both the 12-week qualifying period and the Swedish derogation in May 2008. He said: “Both of these areas are termed as ‘derogations’ under the Agency Workers Directive, which required the agreement of the ‘social partners’, namely the TUC and the CBI, to be effective. It is not now appropriate for the TUC as a consenting ‘social partner’ to complain to the EU to try to undo what is a legally binding arrangement.”

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