Clause 38

Part of Equality Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 23 June 2009.

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Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office 10:30, 23 June 2009

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The issue is protected strands and discrimination. Issues elsewhere relate to different contractual terms, which are often different between contract workers and employees, and there is no sneaking elision of the two.

May I speak to amendment 214 before I specifically say what the hon. Gentleman wants me to say? Amendment 214 would introduce a comparator to victimisation where no comparator is necessary at all, and it would turn current law on its head. I know that it is only a probing amendment, but I need to say that we could not possibly accept it, because it would have that peculiar effect.

On 8 May, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform issued a consultation document on the proposed approaches to the European agency workers directive, which requires that agency workers be treated equally with permanent staff in the organisation in which they are placed after a qualifying period determined by member states, along with social partners. According to the directive, the qualifying period is to be 12 weeks. In our view, the document does not contain any policy risks in relation to the Bill.

The proposal is that protection be granted to agency workers as for a permanent staff member. It is to be decided whether a hypothetical comparison will be permitted as a comparator, but the entitlement will be  to equal treatment with that comparator in terms of conditions of work. That is the directive, not the Bill. However, there might be issues from an employer’s point of view. The protection is distinct from that provided in the Bill, which is concerned with presenting less favourable treatment because of protected characteristics rather than because of the nature or conditions of the work. They are two completely separate policy streams. I hope that satisfies the Committee.