Working Conditions for Temporary Workers

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Mr. Hammond: My point is that national pay bargaining and agreements are still used in many sectors in Germany. A worker or an agency placing a worker in an enterprise that falls within one of those still extensive national agreements would know precisely what the worker would earn.

Alan Johnson: That is a fair point, but it does not apply to Germany as much as to eight other European countries, which definitely have sector-wide pay. For example, a French representative can say that the directive will not affect France because it has sector agreements. Secretarial workers get the same rate wherever they are placed, so France does not have the same practical problems as us. It is an important point in that context.

I should also mention the temp-to-perm issue, on which I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We have spent three years debating it with the employment agency business and we recognise that the fee attached to temp to perm—taking on someone permanently who is a temp involves a transfer fee—is legitimate because agency employers often invest in an individual's training and skills. To avoid such agencies being used as recruitment services, they must have the protection of temp to perm. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we are trying to deal with that problem in proposals on which we are consulting domestically. We are still unclear how the European directive will affect that, but we believe that it would outlaw temp to perm, which is another important concern.

Mr. Hammond: Having had our ritual spat earlier, we are finding that we are not divided by much on the substance. How much support does the Minister understand there to be among other member states for the UK position? He clearly set out his objectives, but what can the British Government do if they are in a minority of one, as I suspect they will be, and cannot achieve the flexibility that they want?

Alan Johnson: I want to avoid debating hypothetical situations. The Committee rightly asked for debate on the issue as it stands, and it would be wrong for us to speculate on what would happen in certain circumstances and whether we would go for a European Court of Justice judgment. That would only

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happen after an agreement, and it is senseless to speculate.

On the support from other member states, it would be wrong for me to burden them and speak on record about their position. Discussions are taking place in the right spirit to see what other states' problems are.

Mr. Hammond: It sounds as if the Minister is on the retreat.

Alan Johnson: It is not unusual in negotiations, as the hon. Gentleman will no doubt agree. Colleagues in other member states related some of their views to me in confidence. However, we have a strong argument that persuades other countries that we are not simply saying, ''No rights for workers.'' Our record since 1997 testifies to that and explains that we are clear that the objectives, which are directed to increase employment in the European Union and the use of agency staff, may be better addressed by modifications to the

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proposal. Our approach to the negotiations will deliver those outcomes, and will be consistent with our labour market priorities, agency work protection and workable regulations. I ask hon. Members to support the Government's initial approach to negotiations on the motion.

The Chairman: I must point out to the Committee that Members who are not Committee members are allowed to attend the sittings and take part in the discussion, but cannot vote.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 7430/02, draft Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on working conditions for temporary workers; and supports the Government's initial approach to negotiations.

Committee rose at fifteen minutes to Twelve o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
O'Brien, Mr. Bill (Chairman)
Cunningham, Tony
Havard, Mr.
Henderson, Mr. Ivan
Hesford, Stephen
Ladyman, Dr.
Murrison, Dr.
Smyth, Rev.
Swire, Mr.
Wright, Mr. Anthony D.

The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(5):
Caplin, Mr. Ivor (Hove)
Hammond, Mr. Philip (Runnymede and Weybridge)
Johnson, Alan (Minister for Employment Relations, Industry and the Regions)
Laxton, Mr. Bob (Derby, North)

 
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