Agency Workers and Their Rights

An interesting little story here about the "fight" to get agency workers the same rights and privileges as permanent staff.

Deborah French who worked in the slicing hall for 19 years packing bacon for Tesco and M&S is now joining her two sisters who were made redundant in that last round. One of them has not worked since. What galled her was being asked to train the agency workers who had replaced them. "This affects so many people\’s lives, so many husbands and wives and cousins and children worked in the company. It\’s the economy round here."

These are the kind of workers at the heart of a campaign being fought by unions determined to make equal rights for agency workers one of the issues of this week\’s Labour party conference. They will attack the government for failing to support a measure they say is vital to protect local and migrant workers and to stop a growing racial backlash.

Danny thinks he lost his job because there are people from other countries willing to take less pay. "The companies are just bringing in cheap labour from abroad. Migrants want a better life and good luck to them, but it\’s bringing down our way of life. If you are an unskilled English person like me you are not going to get the jobs when unskilled foreigners are cheaper."

Of course, we know this is what it\’s all about: it\’s not about upgrading the rights of the temporary workers so as to protect them. It\’s about upgrading said rights to make them more expensive, so that they will no longer be able to compete withhte indigenous labour who are the actual union members. As I say, we know this, it\’s just odd to see it being stated so baldly.

To repeat, and remember this next time some union drone goes on about it, this isn\’t about protecting the rights of migrant or agency workers. It\’s a protectionist measure to deny them jobs.

22 comments on “Agency Workers and Their Rights

  1. Tim,

    You’re right, but harsh and perhaps aren’t looking at the whole picture.

    The unskilled in our economy are particularly exposed to migrant labour and a competitive market. I would have no problem with this if other groups were similarly exposed, because whilst labour rates for unskilled workers might fall, so might the costs of the goods and services provided by other groups fall.

    However, these people are in a situation where they are hugely exposed to competition while living in a country where a very large proportion of the population are protected from these same pressures: The public sector, the NHS (there is no shortage of well qualified applicants for medicine and no shortage of medics wanting jobs in this country, yet salaries have gone through the roof – all because they have strong unions and producer interests dominate), the legal closed shop, accountancy, etc. etc.. All of these have privileged protection against competition and have manged to inflate their incomes as a result.

    In these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the worst paid want a measure of the same protection themselves. They’re wrong, of course, as the solution is to remove this protection from everybody. But to have a go at those scraping a living whilst neglecting the protection enjoyed by the far better off is somewhat heartless, surely?

  2. “The unskilled in our economy are particularly exposed to migrant labour and a competitive market.”

    And whose fault is that? The unskilled are unskilled by choice. There are dozens of programmes for education and training that can help people escape this trap. I cannot rustle up any sympathy or pity for feckless people whining about “them immigants comin’ here, gettin’ free houses and cars and money innit.”

  3. I agree with HJ, simple fact is that we do need more protection for unskilled labour but not of the kind they are asking for. A CBI would subsidise their income and thus allow them to compete on the wage scale of immigrants. It’s all very well to talk about the unalloyed good of immigration but people round my way are losing jobs to it. Try persuading them that stuff’s cheaper in the shops as a result when they’ve scant income to purchase it.

    Kay Tie, pretty harsh on their lack of skills. The fact is that we need unskilled labour. If we educate everyone to university standard, we’re still going to need it. So we can’t buck the question about the working and living conditions of those employed in that sector of the economy.

  4. “If we educate everyone to university standard, we’re still going to need it.”

    I don’t disagree for a second that the current obsession with university is actively harming students. But the key to getting on is education: getting a skill to make oneself valuable in a chosen market.

    “A CBI would subsidise their income and thus allow them to compete on the wage scale of immigrants.”

    A CBI would have to apply to EU immigrants too.

  5. Philip Thomas, the voice of moderate reason as ever.

    KayTie, that’s the gimmick with a CBI. Not only is it a cracking idea, it would probably require us to leave the EU first. Two birds, one stone.

  6. HJ says that “…accountancy… [has] privileged protection against competition and have manged to inflate their incomes as a result”.

    This isn’t quite right. Yes, the list of people who can undertake audits is restricted (by Government fiat, not by the member bodies). But that makes perfect sense. It’s a profession, and you want to be sure that the practitioner is suitably qualified (as with, say, pilots or brain surgeons).

    Otherwise accountancy isn’t a particularly protected market. You don’t have to hold a qualification to hold yourself out as an ‘accountant’, or to offer many of the services accountants offer. They succeed because their skills aren’t easily substituted by others. Unionised labour succeeds even though their skills are very easily substituted by (cheaper) others – because they’re protected by law, to the detriment of the rest of us.

  7. Andrew,

    There is some truth in your assertion that accountancy isn’t particularly protected (and in fact I hesitated before using it as an example), but the fact is that local accountancy regulations and complications do make it very difficult for new or overseas entrants to compete. So although there’s little explicit protection, regulation and tax complexity have the same effect to a large extent.

    I don’t agree with your assertions about professions and qualifications. The NHS uses consultants – because that’s what the Royal colleges insist on – to do cataract operations at a cost of £800+. Sightsavers International do the same thing with trained technicians for just £17. Far better to let private companies with reputations to protect decide what level of training is necessary. We let the ‘professions’ artificially restrict access whilst they are protected from competition by the law. Milton Firedman was opposed to medical licensure for exactly this reason.

    Kay Tie: I agree that if you have lower skills you will always be more vulnerable. But if the better qualified are worth more, why do they need legal and other protections not offered to the unskilled? What you are advocating is discrimination against people because of their skill level – I just want a level playing field. In any case, many very skilled occupations have no such protection and their salaries have suffered hugely due to international competition as a result. This is why new engineering graduates make less than nurses (and graduates in science and technology subjects have the worst unemployent rates)

  8. “The unskilled are unskilled by choice. There are dozens of programmes for education and training that can help people escape this trap. I cannot rustle up any sympathy or pity for feckless people whining about “them immigants comin’ here, gettin’ free houses and cars and money innit.”

    Och, away and stop talkin’ crap, darlin’, because you sound as if you don’t have a clue.

    Ever heard of Remploy? They are the sort of people who are being hit by this sort of corporatist tyranny – are its workers “unskilled by choice”.

    Education and training programmes – hmmm, they’ve got a glorious track record of success, don’t they?

  9. Kay Tie: “But the key to getting on is education: getting a skill to make oneself valuable in a chosen market.”

    Interesting point this. So some of our fellow citizens, being somewhat challenged in the ambition and skill departments, are to be deprived of a livelihood because foreigners, being less challenged in those departments but citizens of dysfunctional states, are to be allowed to deprive said fellow citizens of the opportunity of earning a living. Instead the state will support them. Cui bono? Not me. Not you. And not the “feckless whingers”.

  10. “So some of our fellow citizens, being somewhat challenged in the ambition and skill departments, are to be deprived of a livelihood because foreigners, being less challenged in those departments but citizens of dysfunctional states, are to be allowed to deprive said fellow citizens of the opportunity of earning a living.”

    Sounds a bargain to me.

  11. “Och, away and stop talkin’ crap, darlin’, because you sound as if you don’t have a clue.”

    Oh I’ve come across plenty of the whinging bastards. Now of course, I might have been encountering a statistical blip, having been visiting Scotland at the time, a nation of whiners (although that can be solved by England’s friend, Mr. Salmond).

  12. “But if the better qualified are worth more, why do they need legal and other protections not offered to the unskilled?”

    The better qualified don’t need the protections and shouldn’t get them. Look to Canada to see the extremes of featherbedding and conspiratorial guilds: you have to get a licence to sell houses over there, and a moment’s glance at the fees compared to the UK tells you all you need to know about protectionism.

  13. KT: “Sounds a bargain to me.”

    You do know what the Social Security budget is presumably. Perhaps not such a bargain. Personally I’d prefer to pay less tax and invest the difference in Polish or Romanian companies rather than paying for some of our people to be unemployed. Even worse is the scenario where I’m taxed to pay for foreigners to be unemployed. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility.

  14. This is why new engineering graduates make less than nurses (and graduates in science and technology subjects have the worst unemployent rates)

    I find this hard to believe. Of my Mechanical Engineering class (University of Manchester, 2000) everyone I knew had a job by the autumn, even though most didn’t go into engineering. As a graduate engineer I might have been earning less than a nurse of some experience, but I earned more than the entry level nurses and my salary was pretty standard for engineering graduates.

    I’d also lay a bet that my current salary is a multiple higher than most nurses, but to achieve that involves spending time boiling to death in Kuwaiti deserts and freezing to death in Russian tundra.

  15. “I’d also lay a bet that my current salary is a multiple higher than most nurses, but to achieve that involves spending time boiling to death in Kuwaiti deserts and freezing to death in Russian tundra.”

    Does anyone make you do it with a gun at your head? No. So who cares?

  16. Tim,

    You write,

    “To repeat, and remember this next time some union drone goes on about it, this isn’t about protecting the rights of migrant or agency workers. It’s a protectionist measure to deny them jobs.”

    Being a bit of a laissez-faire drone yourself, it is quite fair to point out that you quoted the following section in full-

    “Deborah French who worked in the slicing hall for 19 years packing bacon for Tesco and M&S is now joining her two sisters who were made redundant in that last round. One of them has not worked since. What galled her was being asked to train the agency workers who had replaced them. “This affects so many people’s lives, so many husbands and wives and cousins and children worked in the company. It’s the economy round here.”

    Now, these people are not ‘redundant’ in any normal sense of the word. Nobody has come up with a better, more technologically advanced way of doing these jobs; nobody has mechanised them; these people have been got rid of just because the capital that employs them seeks to use labour that is cheaper to hire. This would not hve been possible without government intervention through the unmandated opening of our borders in 2004. This is therefore called “protectionism for the rich”.

    Kay, are you peddling the skills canard? Hah ha ha ha…

    Learn something for once in your life – you know, try; work harder than you have been doing; make an effort –

    http://martinkelly.blogspot.com/2006/04/great-fergusonian-skills-canard.html

    and

    http://martinkelly.blogspot.com/2007/06/gordon-browns-admission-of-defeat.html

    and

    http://martinkelly.blogspot.com/2006/06/auld-broon-and-skills-canard.html

    and

    http://martinkelly.blogspot.com/2006/04/spectator-comes-out-in-favour-of.html

    Tyr not to bandy words about things you a) don’t understand; or b) won’t try to learn about with people who actually go out and check the evidence. It’s all very good and well, and probably a little heartwarming, to enjoy a little cyberstamping on those less fortunate than yourself, but kindly do it from an informed position.

    Now, I suppose you all believe that deregulating the professions is a good idea – Oops, should have mentioned I’m a solicitor, so I suppose I’ll expose myself to all the “conspiring against the public” smart comments.

    Well, deregulating the professions is most certainly NOT a good idea – because it’s been done before; with very patchy results.

    Anyone know where? Or when? Nobody willing to put their hand up?

    The French Revolutionaries were really hot on ye old “laissez-faire” to the extent that they deregulated the professions. Absolutely anybody could practice medicine or law. Great idea – until people start to use the new services…

    In 1792, the Revolutionary doctor Antoine-Francois Fourcroy was so appalled by the butchery being practiced by unlicensed doctors that he wrote that “murderous empiricism and ignorant ambition everywhere (now) hold out traps for trusting pain”. You can find that quote in Colin Jones’s “The Great Nation” – along with the fact that one of the first things Bonaparte did after assuming power was to re-regulate the legal profession.

    But Hayek tells us we’ll all be serfs if anyone controls anything, and there should be no barriers to skills; and whatever other crap you care to put in…

  17. Tim Newman,

    Higher unemployment amongst science and technology graduates was reported by the BBC last week (8.4% vs 6.6% across all subjects):

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/6992705.stm

    2000 was completely different to now – industry was fast growing then (i.e before NuLabour really had any effect on the economy). Since 2000, output of British industry has stagnated – by far the worst performance of any G8 country.

    New ‘Graduate’ nurses do, indeed, make more than new graduate engineers on average (and nurses are paid to train – no student fees for them). Later in their careers engineers do tend to make a bit more than nurses, but not as much more as you’d think. The average nurse now gets over £28k per year. Most engineers certainly don’t make a multiple of this.

  18. Does anyone make you do it with a gun at your head? No. So who cares?

    I was not looking for care or compassion, I was pointing out that engineers can earn more than nurses, one method of doing so involving working in extreme climates.

  19. HJ,

    I’ve not lived in the UK since 2003, and – hard though this may be to accept – 2000 is indeed 7 years ago, so I stand corrected. If things have changed in the UK to the extent that nurses get paid more than engineers, then I’m rather glad that I have spent the past 4 years on the outside.

  20. In a perfect world there would be perfect competion. But the world isn’t perfect and I’m afraid I have to agree with Martin Kelly. It makes no sense for society as a whole to make its members unemployed, pay them unemployments benefits and replace these people with members from outside that society, with neither a stake in nor a commitment to that society.

    The individual factory owner may benefit, but only by acting parasitically upon the other tax-paying members of society. This is a twisted form of Corporate Welfare that is abusing our social welfare.

    Or at least, that’s my perspective from a LEFT Libertarian viewpoint, i.e. someone who wants to minimise the malign influence of the State whilst at the same time recognising that Yes, there is actually something called Society.

  21. The quote goes : “there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours.”

    So, if these people lose their jobs, it is the fact that unemployment benefits reduce their incentive to find better levels of pay for the work involved which is costing ‘society’. Looks to me like its Government which is harming ‘society’ with these free benefits – not the fact that some people are willing to do the job cheaper.
    The best thing the losers can do is to upskill and add value to themselves. Its called competition.

  22. “The best thing the losers can do is to upskill and add value to themselves. Its called competition.”

    Try it. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

    “it is the fact that unemployment benefits reduce their incentive to find better levels of pay for the work involved which is costing ’society’.”

    In 2002, I required to apply for Jobseekers Allowance. At that time, contribution based JSA amounted to £111.00/fortnight. Not much icentive there.

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