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Agency workers should have equal rights

| Text: Kerstin Ahlberg, editor EU & Arbetsrätt

Workers hired through labour agencies should be granted the same rights to salaries, holidays and working hours as if they were hired directly by the company employing them, says a Swedish special investigator.

This should also cover people hired through foreign labour agencies by Swedish companies. These are the recommendations by a special investigator responsible for looking at how the EU's agency workers directive should be implemented in Sweden. In her work she gathered arguments from Denmark and Norway.

EU's directive on temporary agency workers (nr 2008/104) must be implemented by all member states by 5 December this year. Norway and Iceland have a slightly longer deadline to allow time to adopt the directive into the EEA agreement. 

A central part of the directive stipulates hired workers must enjoy the same basic working and employment rights as those who are directly employed by a company. Member states can make exceptions to this equality principle in some cases, and the special investigator suggests that Sweden make use of two opportunities to make such exceptions. If the employee is permanent staff with the labour agency and is also paid between jobs, the principle of equal pay no longer applies, only the principle of other working and employment conditions. Exceptions can also be made through collective agreements as long as the agreement "respects the overarching protection" of the employees.

The new law will perhaps mostly affect workers hired out to Swedish companies from foreign countries. Swedish labour agencies are already tied to collective agreements which are based on the same principles as the new directive. As a result they have been facing hard competition from foreign labour agencies which provide workers from low wage countries like Lithuania and Poland.

Sweden's existing law on the posting of workers does indeed apply as it does for all other foreign workers, but it does not guarantee them more than Sweden's established minimum conditions. But the Nordic countries' adaptation of the directive on agency workers offers a new opportunity to fight low wage competition. The countries are now free to decide that the rules on hired labour shall be the same as those that apply to a company's own staff (not only the minimum requirements) and that this must also apply to workers hired out by foreign labour agencies. The special investigator advices Sweden to do this. 

This means workers stationed by labour agencies can demand more advantageous working conditions compared to workers stationed by other companies. This part of the proposal is very controversial and employers' organisations are very much against it. Yet the special investigator defends her proposal by referring to the fact that governments in Denmark and Norway are following a similar path. 

Employers are unhappy with other parts of the directive too. In addition to the principle of equal treatment, the directive stipulates that member states must revise their legislation and collective agreement to see whether these contain anything that is not in the public interest and which would be of hindrance to the hiring of agency labour. Such obstacles must be removed. Employers' organisations feel the special investigator has failed to address this point properly.



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