Brown to meet union leaders over agency rights dispute

Gordon Brown will today meet with union leaders as Labour MPs back measures to improve the rights of temporary and agency workers.

The prime minister is expected to push for a commission, chaired by Sir George Bain, to examine the arguments in favour of extending rights to temporary workers.

It would be modelled on the Low Pay Commission which led to the introduction of a national minimum wage.

However, union leaders argue a commission will be insufficient to benefit vulnerable workers and are pushing for full legal protection.

MPs voted 147 to 11 last week backing the second reading of the agency rights bill, introduced by Labour MP Andrew Miller.

Some 130 Labour MPs, including former work and pensions secretary Peter Hain, defied the government to back the bill.

Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of the Unite union, said the issue needed to be addressed through parliament, not a commission.

“The evidence of the need for legislation now is overwhelming and we will not accept the promise of jam, he said.

Tony Dubbins, chair of the trade union and Labour party labour liaison organisation, added: “The parliamentary Labour party has spoken and its message is loud and clear. We must have primary legislation to protect the growing numbers of agency workers – nothing less will do.

“The size of this rebellion is also a clear demonstration to government that the idea of a commission on agency working is too little and too late. The need for domestic legislation is already proven and we and the Labour backbenchers will not tolerate any other tactics designed to scupper it.”

The Confederation of British Industry, however, denies staff on temporary contracts are denied rights, arguing few temps are vulnerable and even fewer are exploited.

The industry body warns adopting the bill would put 250,000 jobs at risk and would result in the UK losing its “vital competitive edge”.