Agency workers are paid much less than their directly employed counterparts. There are an estimated 1.4 million agency workers in Britain.
They are not entitled to sick pay or proper holidays. They can be laid off without any notice or redundancy pay.
Their contract is with their employment agency rather than with the firm they actually work for. Many agency workers work for the same company for years – but are still kept on worse pay and conditions than directly employed workers.
Attempts to get rights for agency workers were blocked by the Labour government at a European level from 2002.
Last year the EU agency workers directive was finally passed. Britain agreed to back the directive in return for being allowed to retain its opt-out from rules restricting maximum working hours.
The directive allows for the same pay and conditions for agency workers as permanent workers. In the rest of the EU that starts from day one of employment.
But in Britain the bosses’ CBI organisation, the TUC and the government did a deal that means that those rights would only start after 12 weeks of working.
The bosses insist that the agency workers directive only applies to basic pay and does not include conditions such as redundancy pay and unfair dismissal. And the government has yet to implement the directive as law.