The Government is going back on a commitment to agree plans for equal pay and basic employment rights for agency workers across Europe by the end of the year, the TUC has warned.
A UK co-ordinated blocking minority has effectively removed the Temporary Agency Workers Directive from the agenda of the last European Union Council of Ministers meeting of 2003, which is due to take place next Monday (December 1).
The Italian Presidency will put the directive back on the agenda if broad agreement appears possible, but this is unlikely while Government continues to demand that agency temps should only receive equal pay and basic rights when they have been in a job for more than a year, said the TUC.
However, the Government's stance is likely to delight many UK employers, which have been concerned about the effect the directive, if implemented, might have on staffing costs and red tape.
The union body has urged the Government to get the issue back on the table by dropping demands for a one-year qualifying period.
According to the latest Government figures such a one-year qualifying period would mean that three quarters of the UK's estimated 800,000 agency workers would never enjoy the new rights as they are not kept in one job for over a year and the protections would never apply to 93 per cent of young agency workers, it added.
Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary, said: "The UK are keeping this issue off the table and delaying the decent treatment of agency workers. But there is still time for the government to keep its commitment to get this sorted by the end of the year by dropping demands for a qualifying period.
"The government and business case for a qualifying period for agency workers rights confuses 'flexibility' with 'low cost'. Research by temp agencies themselves shows that employers use temps because of the natural flexibility they provide, not to do things on the cheap. There is no solid argument for denying agency temps fairness at work from their first day in the job."