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Agency and temporary workers

Agency and temporary workers: an introduction

Recruitment agencies use agency workers (often referred to as temporary workers or ‘temps’) to fill vacancies in companies. Recruitment agencies place workers with a hiring company. You will have a contract with the employment agency, which may or may not amount to a contract of employment depending upon the circumstances.

The agency that finds work for you will provide you with a contract with them for any job they help you secure. Generally the hiring company pays a fee to the agency. You are then paid by the agency, not the hiring company.

Agency workers play an important role in providing flexibility for businesses. For agency workers, the benefits include the ability to:

  • leapfrog to the job you want;
  • enter or re-enter the job market;
  • work flexibly;
  • move jobs with little notice.

Your rights as an agency worker

Agency workers have different working rights from employees.

The company that hires you can end your job without being liable for unfair dismissal claims or redundancy pay. You should always check your contract for the notice period you have to give.

Read more about unfair dismissal claims and redundancy pay.

All workers, including agency workers, are entitled to certain rights, including:

  • paid holiday and rest breaks;
  • the national minimum wage;
  • protection against unlawful deductions from wages;
  • freedom from discrimination provided that you are an employee of the agency which is not always the case;
  • protection under health and safety laws;
  • freedom to take a permanent job with the hiring company if one is offered.

Recruitment agencies’ responsibilities

When an agency offers you a position with a company, they must tell you the company’s name and give you information on the pay rate, position and start date and likely duration of the placement and details of any expenses payable by or to you, as well as any health and safety risks involved.

An agency cannot:

  • prevent you from leaving the agency to work for a hiring company;
  • change your terms and conditions without your consent;
  • charge you for finding work (except in the entertainment, sports and modelling industries);
  • disclose information about you without your permission. There are some exceptions to this.

When it comes to payment, agencies must pay workers for all the hours they work, even if a timesheet was not submitted. The agency must pay you even if the hiring company has not paid the agency.

Agency working law

The main principle of the Agency Workers Directive is to give equal treatment to someone who has been with the hiring company for 12 continuous weeks – as if the worker had been recruited directly by the company – in respect of certain basic working conditions, such as pay and working time.

Next steps for UNISON reps

If an agency worker raises a grievance against your employer because they have been treated unfairly, be prepared to accompany them to a workplace disciplinary or grievance hearing.


Agency and temporary workers

  • Can I join a trade union as an agency worker?

    Yes, you are allowed to join a union. Some employers encourage workers to do so. You have the right to be accompanied at a workplace disciplinary or grievance hearing by a trade union representative or a colleague.

  • Can I register with another recruitment agency while I am working for another?

    Yes. You have the right as an agency worker to register with more than one agency.

  • How much personal data can I share with my agency? What can they share with the hiring company?

    Other than for the purpose of finding work, an agency can’t disclose information about you to third parties or to a current employer without your permission. There are some exceptions, such as for legal or tax purposes. Before introducing you to a hiring company, you will need to show documents such as your birth certificate or passport to your agency to confirm your identity.

  • I haven’t been paid by my recruitment agency. They say this is because they haven’t been paid by the hiring company – is there anything I can do?

    The agency has to pay for any work you have done by law even if your agency hasn’t been paid. Talk to your UNISON rep immediately.