I have been in Brussels for the last couple of days, accompanying a delegation of GMB shop stewards who work in the Marks and Spencer distribution centre in Swindon. Domingos Dias and Rosseby Carvaho are seen above at the meeting chaired by Siôn Simon MEP, where they addressed a senior EU Commission official for Employment, Social Legislation and Social Dialogue leading on Agency worker legislation. Also at the meeting was the West Country MEP Clare Moody, and the leader of the Labour Party Group, Glenis Willmott, and German MEP Jutta Steinruck.
As a result of the meeting, Labour MEPs have called for the EU to take urgent action over the pay and conditions of agency workers, after hearing first hand from workers and trade union representatives of the dreadful conditions hundreds of agency workers have been subjected to.
Our shop stewards gave testimony regarding the Agency Workers Regulation and in particular the so-called ‘Swedish’ derogation, which allows agencies to opt out of equal pay if the individual is permanently employed by the agency. The TUC raised a complaint with the European Commission over a year ago – however the Commission admitted this week they had not yet reached a final decision.
Glenis Willmott MEP, Labour’s Leader in Europe, said:
“The Agency Workers Regulation was intended to protect agency workers from exploitation and ensure they are treated the same as permanent workers.
“However, unscrupulous employers are using loopholes in the law to avoid treating agency staff equally.
“I was appalled by what I heard. The workers reported pregnant women turning up for work at 6am and being turned away, while others said they had been subjected to racial abuse and intimidation.”
The agency workers are employed by a recruitment agency called Tempay Ltd, who complete work on behalf of Marks and Spencer. The agency staff are contracted to only a seven hours per week contract, even though they can be expected to complete a 37-hour rota. If they are not available for every day of the rota they can be disciplined for absenteeism.
The agency staff are not entitled to the same pay as their permanent counterparts, who, for example, receive double the hourly rate on a Sunday. It is a common occurrence for employees to be turned away from their work on a regular basis and not provided with travel costs. This means some individuals have ended up out of pocket by the end of the week.
Siôn Simon MEP, European Parliament spokesperson on employment, said:
“Supposed agency workers are having their wages depressed and their rights and dignity abused. Companies such as Marks and Spencer should be ashamed of this use of modern slavery.”
The GMB have accused Tempay Ltd of using the Swedish derogation in the Agency Workers Regulation as a way to pay a huge amount of staff a lower wage than their permanent colleagues. Some of the employees have worked in the same role on the site for eight years and are still not in a position to be able to take out a loan, ask for a mortgage or even book a holiday due to the precarious nature of their work.
Clare Moody MEP, Labour MEP for the South West, said:
“I have been working closely with the GMB on this issue in my constituency and have met with various agency employees from Tempay Ltd. What these workers have been going through is completely unacceptable.
“There is already a complaint regarding the UK not giving employees the rights they should have through European law. The Commission must make sure that UK workers get the same rights that other EU workers get through this legislation.”
Domingos Dias, GMB shop steward, said “I believe that the MEPs and commission officials were shocked by the evidence we gave them of the exploitation of agency workers at our site through use of the so-called Swedish derogation of permanent contracts with the agency. MEPs made clear to the EU Commission officials that they want to work with them to sort out this loophole quickly before the exploitation spreads to other countries”.
Carole Vallelly, GMB Regional Organiser, said “we are very pleased that our members were able to give their evidence to the MEPs and EU Officials about the real world of insecurity, poverty and anxiety due to avoidance of equal treatment rights by misuse of the Swedish Derogation.
GMB has offered to provide further written evidence to the EU Commission and European Parliament to assist with the assessment of possible infringement of rights under the agency workers directive by means of this derogation.”