Temping and agency work

Fed up with the same old faces and the politics in the office? Maybe it's time to temp.

Girl on the phone at work

If I have to answer one more phone call about a faulty dishwasher...

Why temp?

It can sometimes seem like your chances of bagging a job are about as high as your chances of winning the lottery. With the economic uncertainty dragging on, many companies don’t want to commit to taking on extra people in case they can’t afford to keep them. But many of these commitment-shy firms still have work that needs doing.

“If permanent jobs aren’t available, and sometimes in difficult market conditions they are not, people tend to have temporary workers instead because they are unsure about committing to extra headcount,” says Lisa Pond, an operations manager at employment agency Adecco.

Employers often fill these temporary vacancies using an agency, so it helps to get on the books of as many as possible if you’re looking for regular work. As a temp, you won’t get the same sense of security as permanent staff, but the Agency Workers Regulations will mean you will get many of the same rights.

Temp workers’ rights

From the first day of an assignment, you’ll be entitled to the same access to company facilities and information about job vacancies as comparable employees. This means, for example, if there’s a staff canteen or cr?che you should be able to access it in the same way as staff directly employed by the organisation doing the same work as you.

After 12 weeks in the same role, you’ll also be entitled to the same pay, holiday leave and rest breaks as those employed directly by the firm doing a similar job, and you should be treated the same way when it comes to working time and night work. If you’re pregnant, you’ll also get paid time off for ante-natal appointments.

The key to gaining access to these rights is finding someone in your workplace who is doing a similar job and this can be tricky, says Leon Walton, conciliator at Acas. “If you were employed as a car mechanic through an agency and you found somebody else who was employed by the company as a car mechanic then it would be easy to find a comparator. Where the problem comes in is if you were the only person who did that role.”

If you’re struggling to find a suitable comparison, you may need to seek legal advice. If you have found a suitable comparison and believe you’re missing out, it’s worth giving your employer the benefit of the doubt – they may have no idea what the current rules are. But it’s down to you to make sure that changes. “There isn’t an employment police out there wandering around checking that employers are doing everything right. It is up to individuals to challenge them,” says Walton.

The best thing to do first is raise the issue with your line manager. Try directing them to Gov.UK’s outline of their responsibilities, if you think they’re unaware of your rights.

If that doesn’t have the desired effect, talk to your agency and if necessary file a grievance with them. If both these steps fail, it may be time to consider taking your case to an Employment Tribunal. However, it’s worth seeking some free advice from Citizens Advice or Acas first as they may be able to help you resolve the situation more amicably.

What’s it like to be a temp?

Laura Dow, 24, recruitment assistant

‘I left school straight after my GCSEs and started doing temp work so I had some office experience to put on my CV. It was office junior sort of stuff: filing, photocopying and putting things onto the system. I worked for some companies for short periods of time, but I also worked for one company for six months so when I left there it was quite sad. I was doing temp work until I found myself a permanent role about three-and-a-half years ago and my temping experience definitely helped me get this role.

‘To be honest I don’t know if I got paid more or less than permanent staff. When I first started out I was happy with any sort of money. I didn’t know anything about holiday pay and I never got it. It was never really discussed and I think maybe agencies could explain things a bit better.’

Miriam Zendle, 26, journalist

‘From the time that I was about 18 until the last couple of years I’ve done agency work on and off. It was mainly reception and data entry work. I did it in the summer when I was at uni, then after I graduated on and off because with journalism it can be an up and down profession.

‘It was a pretty good experience on the whole. There was one booking where they decided they didn’t want me when I was halfway into work. When you’re not making any money and you’ve already paid for transport it is quite annoying. But bookings can get cancelled at short notice. You often don’t know when you turn up if they are going to need you the next day.

‘The pay when I did it was never massively high and permanent staff usually got paid more than I did. The pay ranged between 5.50 and 9 an hour, but was usually about 6.50 to 7.50.’

Next Steps

  • Find your local Citizens Advice here, for free and independent legal advice. Or call their helpline. 03454 04 05 06
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.

By Joanne Christie

Updated on 29-Sep-2015