Johnson comes out against Agency Workers’ Directive


Minister of State for Employment Relations Alan Johnson has come out firmly against the proposed Agency Workers’ Directive (AWD) saying it could have “dramatic effects” on the UK.

The draft for the AWD - a Brussels led-initiative that proposes agency workers should receive the same benefits as permanent employees - was placed on the table in March by European commissioner Anna Diamantopolou.

Johnson told Parliament (July 10): “It has been difficult to establish the overall labour market effect that it might have, but I would be extremely concerned if the proposals had a negative effect on the demand for agency workers, and therefore on overall employment levels.”

Johnson said that the government was not against the AWD in principle but that its strictures did not necessarily apply to the UK market.

“It is important that the directive works in practice in the UK, which has a different agency market and history of agency workers [than] from other agency workers,” he said.

“It is also important that the current proposal will help us to deliver full employment. We are concerned that the current proposal will do neither of those.”

Johnson’s comments will hearten both HR professionals and recruiters in particular as it signals the government’s intent to resist the directive.

It also signals a considerable change of heart for Johnson, the architect of the controversial Employment Agencies Act (EAA), which had recruiters up in arms when it was initially tabled in 1999. The EAA has since become bogged down in consultation with no sign of it eventually coming to the table.

Although the consultation process for the AWD is likely to take at least 18 months meanwhile, the impact of the directive on recruitment agencies’ bottom line will be considerable if implemented.

Johnson added: “Where agency workers are in genuinely temporary positions, there may be a danger that an equal treatment requirement would impose administrative burdens that discourage the use of agency workers.”

Do you have a view on the AWD? Does Johnson's stance represent a change of heart on the part of the government?