Employers are exploiting a loophole in the law to pay agency workers at contact centres around £500 a month less than collegues doing the same job, the CWU said this week.
The union is holding events at contact centres around the country this week to highlight the problem to agency workers. Under an EU law introduced in October 2011, agency workers should receive equal pay after 12 weeks in the job. But a legal loophole allows ‘Pay between Assignment’ (PBA) contracts, which sign away agency workers’ equal rights to pay.
Many agency workers are signing these contracts without realising the implications, the CWU claims. CWU general secretary Billy Hayes said: ‘These contracts are legal, but in the same way that the legal tax arrangements of Starbucks, Amazon and many celebrities are morally wrong, we believe these contracts fly in the face of fairness.
‘Both agencies and hirers are at fault for choosing to use these contracts which sign away workers’ rights to equal pay, rather than sticking to the spirit of the new legislation which had equal pay at its heart. Agency staff earning less than the Living Wage are losing out to the tune of £500 or more a month. They’re entitled to equal pay but are being exploited. This loophole should be closed.’
Examples given by the union include agency workers on PBA contracts in a contact centre in Lincoln, who are receiving £7.50 an hour compared to colleagues doing the same work on £11.38 an hour. For those working a 37.5 hour week, this equals a difference in wages of £584 per month.
Workers have told the CWU that they were unaware when signing the contract that they were signing away their rights to equal pay.
Will Buchanan, a contact centre worker at a call centre in Lincoln said: ‘When I signed up with the agency they told us to sign the contract, but none of us realised what it meant. We only found out when our CWU rep told us that other agency workers were getting a pay rise and we weren’t – we’d probably still be in the dark otherwise.
‘It’s legal, but it seems unethical and carried out in an underhand way. It was glossed over when I signed up. It makes you feel second class and it’s an awkward situation.’
Hayes called on the Government to act to close the loophole. He said: ‘We’re asking companies and agencies to stop using these PBA contracts. Most people signing up with an agency don’t realise what rights they’re signing away and it’s irresponsible and dishonest to exploit often low-paid workers in this way. We’d also like government to look at this issue as it’s clearly in contradiction to the spirit of the law.’