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22 November 2007 Edition

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The Mitchel McLaughlin Column


Agency Workers must be protected


Employment Agencies are sprouting up all over the country. It is a growth industry that we need to be wary of if we are to protect workers against the erosion of their rights. I welcome the SIPTU campaign launch in Liberty Hall on Monday evening last aimed at improving agency workers’ rights and I hope that it will be organised on a 32 county basis.
Following the recent announcement of the loss of over 900 jobs at Seagate in Limavady it transpired that a substantial number of the workers were actually contracted through Employment Agencies and therefore not entitled to the same redundancy packages as directly employed workers. It is bad enough that while in employment these workers do not receive the same rates of pay and conditions but when they become subject to the same affects of redundancy faced by their fellow workers they are once again disadvantaged by the provisions of exclusion or reductions in severance packages. We must not allow this method of worker recruitment to become prevalent in our society as it serves only to diminish workers rights and rates of remuneration while absolving mainly multi-national conglomerates of their obligations of providing statutory and other benefits to agency workers.
Recent research in Britain showed that agency workers were paid on average only 68% of the directly employed workforce’s earnings; had less entitlements; are younger on average than the directly employed workforce and have less control over the work they do.
It is incumbent on the Oireacthas and the Assembly to ensure that we provide equal opportunity and treatment for agency workers. There is a growing concern that the growth in the Employment Agency sector creates the conditions for exploitation and abuse of these workers. We have to ask why we need such a growth in the number of agencies on this small island and who is benefiting from them? We must, as a party, mobilize in co-operation with the Trades Union Movement to put pressure on Belfast and Dublin Ministers to immediately implement measures that will protect the rights of agency workers to equal pay, pensions and other benefits awarded to those directly employed by companies.
Only three states, Hungary, Britain and Ireland have not legislated to provide equal treatment for agency workers. This is an open invitation to unscrupulous employers to abuse unorganised labour such as migrant workers, which will inevitably result in conflict in the workplace.
I would be interested to know what percentage of clients on the books of Employment Agencies are migrant workers or other foreign nationals.

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