Revealed: agency workers underpaid and exploited

Full- time agency workers earn, on average, £430 a year less and enjoy fewer employment rights than employees in the same role. They’re also more vulnerable to exploitation, according to Secret Agents: agency workers in the new world of work, a new report by the Resolution Foundation. It also found that 60% of UK agency workers would rather be on a permanent contract.  

Agency work is as much a feature of today’s casualised job market as controversial zero-hours contracts and every bit as serious, but has until now attracted scant media attention. Yet, in 2016 there are 865,000 agency workers in the UK – an increase of 30% in the last five years – and if current rates of growth continue, their ranks will pass the million mark before the next General Election. With employers increasingly looking to agencies to meet their recruitment needs, tackling the loopholes that can disadvantage agency workers is vital and pressing.  

Not second-class citizens

‘Temping’ – with its connotation of short-term, temporary assignments – is no longer appropriate shorthand for agency work. These days, according to the report, half of all agency workers are on permanent contracts, and three-quarters are in full-time work. But because they aren’t classified as ‘employees’, companies can get away with paying them less than permanent staff doing identical work. Employers are also relieved of any legal duty to honour basic employment rights such as sick pay, paid parental leave, and protection from immediate dismissal.  

"Agency workers don’t deserve to be treated like second-class citizens,” says TUC Secretary General Frances O'Grady, “but they are often paid less than their permanent colleagues, even when they do exactly the same job. We need the government to toughen the law to create a level playing field for agency workers.”