The Agency Worker Regulations (AWR) have been introduced to protect “vulnerable” workers from exploitation by way of low pay or fewer employment rights than permanent workers. It is European legislation drawn up in Brussels where there is a much smaller flexible workforce than in the UK. Basically the legislation states that after 12 weeks on the same site (or at the same place of work) the agency (or temporary worker) is entitled to mostly the same hourly rate of pay and holiday entitlement as the permanent worker doing the same job.

The legislation doesn’t define “vulnerable” and so it applies to absolutely any agency or temp worker whether you are a labourer or a doctor.

As is always the case in the UK, we don’t know what this means legally until the first cases have been heard at tribunal, once judgement is made on a few cases we may have a better understanding of what is deemed a “vulnerable” worker.

Many temporary workers receive a higher hourly rate than their permanent equivalent and so do not necessarily gain anything from the legislation, although they may get a less favourable holiday entitlement. We will have to wait until a judge has decided if higher pay but fewer holiday’s breaches the AWR.

Some low paid, unskilled workers, the people the legislation is intended to protect should be concerned. Within the construction industry for example there is no inclination to increase pay rates of unskilled workers and there is plenty of supply in this area of employment. In this sector the thought is that end user clients will just dispense with the services of agency workers on 12 weeks service and request replacements. As long as the same person doesn’t get sent to the job again they will not be in breach of AWR. The legislation that was intended to protect these workers will actually be a detriment.

The definition of a temporary work agency has a wider scope in the AWR legislation and includes not just employment agencies (or work finders) but intermediaries such as Umbrella Companies and Offshore service providers.

AWR states that the genuinely self-employed are out of scope and the regulations do not apply, however in English law there is a type of person called a “worker” who is neither an employee, not genuinely self-employed. They can provide their services in a self employed capacity for tax reasons, but are considered a worker for employment law purposes.

In the past few months there have been many “solution providers” advertising their services as taking people out of AWR by making them self-employed. This will not work but agencies and end clients do seem to be falling for the ruse. The vast majority of these solutions are based on what is written in a contract but as we know from the case of Autoclenz v Belcher and Others, Employment Tribunals look past the written contracts and at the actual real world relationship to determine whether someone is an employee, a worker or genuinely self employed. If a person turns up on a site as they have been requested to do by name and they are instructed on what to do and how to do it, they are not going to be considered to be self-employed for the purposes of AWR.

Beware of these schemes and viewing them as a magic elixir.