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Equality Bill

Part of the debate – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:31 am on 9th June 2009.

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Sarah Veale: I think that we probably disagree. Consultation is going on, and we are talking to the CBI and others. The problem is for the agency workers themselves who are not as protected—I respectfully suggest—as the CBI thinks. They do not have contractual status, so a lot of employment law does not apply to them, and they are discriminated against on that basis.

The other impact is that employers often use agency workers to substitute for a full-time person, who would get full protection. We shall have to wait to see what happens with the agency work regulations, which the TUC very much welcomes. The trouble is that, unless you get a very strong comparator basis and you can do proper comparisons between the terms and conditions on which you employ the permanent workers and those on which the agency workers are contracted to supply their labour, you have an inherent built-in inequality, so I can see exactly where you are coming from on that. In a sense, it is another area of discrimination that I know is being dealt with elsewhere, but it often locks in and meshes with the elements of discrimination covered in the Bill.

I hope, as the CBI no doubt does, that we can do something together constructively to make the position of agency workers much better in the UK. That remains to be seen. I do not doubt the will of the Government to do something, but it is a tricky area, because we have a two-tier employment market in the UK, which employers choose to stick with because they benefit from it. The TUC has spent a lot of time disputing whether it is fair and equitable to have some people working as workers and not employees, with no protection, while others are in a completely different position. The position is rather arbitrary and random, but that is probably a bigger question than the context of the Bill. I hope that that helps.