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Website URL : http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=5234

Acas study reveals low awareness of rights & fear of raising concerns by agency workers

Thursday 19 March 2015

An Acas study published today reveals that amongst callers to the Acas helpline, agency workers were often unaware of their employment rights and afraid of raising workplace concerns due to fears over job security.

The Acas paper pdf  Three sides to every story: the impact of the Agency Worker Regulations [129kb] looked at recent research around agency workers as well as employers and employees that called the Acas helpline about agency work.

On average, one in five calls to the helpline related to contract issues. The study's findings were similar to an analysis published last year on calls to the Acas helpline about zero hours contracts.

Acas Chair, Sir Brendan Barber, said:

"Our analysis reveals that agency workers can feel a sense of insecurity and fear around their contracts, similar to those raised by calls to our helpline on zero hours contracts.

"We found examples of agency workers who were afraid of questioning their employment rights or completely unaware that they were entitled to some basic rights.

"Some workers also complained that they were asked to take on tasks that they were not qualified to handle and employers wanting to ignore the law so that they could sack people immediately."

Acas' analysis revealed that agency workers were often:

  • Unaware of their rights particularly around holiday pay, notice periods and the 12 week qualifying period when an agency worker doing the same work is entitled to have the same basic terms and conditions of employment as if they had been employed directly by the hirer; and
  • Afraid of asserting their statutory rights due to believing that there's an imbalance of power in the employment relationship.

Examples of calls to the Acas helpline around agency work included:

  • An agency worker who worked for social services and reported that she was coerced into working with vulnerable adults even though she had not received training in safeguarding and direct payments;
  • A hirer that had employed an agency worker for two years but claimed that the conduct and performance of that worker had deteriorated. The hirer wanted to terminate the assignment immediately rather than follow standard good practice around performance appraisals or disciplinary procedures; and
  • Several workers that had not been paid for their work and not knowing who to chase for their payment.

Brendan Barber added:

"What has always made this employment relationship so complex is its triangular nature - with a need to balance the needs of workers, hirers and agencies."

The Acas paper concludes that a greater awareness of the experiences of agency workers and how their employment rights can be protected would benefit the competitive nature of agency businesses.

Notes to editors

  1. The Acas ER Comment Paper Three sides to every story: the impact of the Agency Worker Regulations will be available from the Acas website from Thursday 19 March 2015 at: www.acas.org.uk/ercomment
  2. Also relevant, see Acas Research Paper The effects of Agency Workers Regulations on agency and employer practice by C Forde and G Slater is available on the Acas website at www.acas.org.uk/research
  3. Acas undertook an analysis of calls to the Acas Helpline relating to agency work. Of the 900,000 calls to the Acas helpline in 2014:
    - 19% came under category of 'contracts';
    - 8,390 calls were about 'zero-hours contracts'; and
    - 2,250 calls were about Agency Worker Regulations.
  4. The Acas Policy Discussion Paper Give and take? Unravelling the true nature of zero-hours contracts is available at www.acas.org.uk/policydiscussion
  5. Acas stands for Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.  Acas provides free and impartial information and advice to employers and employees on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law. We support good relationships between employers and employees which underpin business success. We also provide good value, high quality training and tailored advice to employers. Our expertise is based on millions of contacts with employers and employees each year.  Acas is an independent and impartial statutory body governed by a Council made up of members from business, trade unions, academia and the law. For more information, see About us.
  6. For media enquiries, please contact Shumon Ali-Rahman on 0207 210 3688 or salirahman@acas.org.uk For out of hours media enquiries please call the out of hours duty press officer on 020 7210 3600.