Agency workers claim they have been ‘cheated’ out of pay rises, despite often carrying out exactly the same jobs as their permanent staff colleagues. By our Town Hall reporter, KEN LEE
Scrooge-like Croydon Council is taking the Ho, Ho, Ho out of Christmas, and replacing it with big fat Zero, Zero, Zero for hundreds of temporary agency staff, who they have ordered to take unpaid leave over the festive period.
The cash-strapped council has told the temporary staff that it is forcing them to take six days of unpaid leave over Christmas and the New Year to “save money”.
But this comes as a fiercely-contested three-week Employment Tribunal is coming to a close, which could cost the council around £150,000 for the hearing alone as it defends itself against allegations of unfair dismissal and racism. The council has also paid for the defence of its CEO, Katherine Kerswell, who also faced allegations of racism from former executive Hazel Simmonds.
Agency staff have raised their fears about mistreatment over Christmas in an email to Mayor Jason Perry and all Town Hall councillors. Urgent questions have been asked of the council’s human resources department, although the very well-paid head of HR, Scrooge-lookalike Dean Shoesmith, has spent most of the past fortnight logged in to the London South Employment Tribunal’s remote sessions…
The agency workers also claim that they have been denied the annual pay rise that the council has made to permanent staff.
“Agency staff are really upset with the situation but also feel helpless and powerless,” the agency worker, who has maintained anonymity, said in the email.
“We work just as hard as council employed staff, sometimes harder because we know we are disposable.
“We shouldn’t be in the position of trying to get Croydon Council to give us fair treatment in accordance with the regulations – our rights should be upheld and protected as a matter of course.”
The worker claims that this is not the first year that the council has failed to give agency staff a pay increase even though they are entitled to it under the agency worker regulations, nor the first time they have forced their temporary staff to take a prolonged spell of leave over the Christmas break.
“Croydon Council is breaching the agency workers’ regulation by not giving the annual pay increase to agency staff,” they claim.
“Croydon Council [is] breaching the agency workers’ regulation by forcing agency staff to compulsorily ‘stand down’.”
Croydon Council will be closed on Monday 25 and Tuesday 26 December, when employed staff and agency staff will all be on leave. The council has also instructed employees to take December 27 as (paid) annual leave. This also applies to agency staff, but they will not be paid for this date.
Employed staff will be back at work on Thursday December 28 and Friday December 29, “but agency workers have been told they cannot work on these dates and we won’t be paid either”, the emailer writes.
Employed staff will be working again from Tuesday, January 2 and the rest of that week, “but agency workers have been told they cannot work on these dates and we won’t be paid either”.
This Friday, December 22, will be the last paid work day for Croydon’s agency staff, who won’t get paid work again from the council until Monday, January 8 – a 16-day-long unpaid period.
Agency worker regulations insist that employers of casual staff should treat them in the same manner as employees after they have worked at any organisation for at least 12 weeks – which is the case for many of Croydon’s temporary workers.
“Many agency staff have worked for other councils and have never been forced to take unpaid leave at any point in the year,” the whistleblower says.
“For a lot of us, Christmas is an expensive time of the year and we are being forced to take unpaid leave.
“A number of us have looked into seasonal part-time work just to cover the loss of earnings over that period.
“Some of us agency workers live week-to-week on pay and cannot afford to take the unpaid leave. We have rent and mortgages and bills like everyone else.”
The emailer claims that Croydon’s Bah! Humbug! council has been operating its “Scrooge lay-offs” for several years.
And while the council’s employees this month got a £2,229 pay increase – handily back-dated to April – temporary workers, often doing exactly the jobs as permanent staff alongside them, have been told that they are not entitled to the pay increase.
New temporary and permanent jobs are being advertised by the council at the increased pay rates, which means new directly employed workers and agency workers will be paid more than existing agency workers doing the same job. “This is unfair,” the agency worker says.
“As agency workers, the breach of the regulations is really hard to deal with because if we say anything to the council, we could lose our jobs.”
Some of Croydon’s agency staff have approached ACAS, the employment arbitration service, to seek unpaid back-pay for this and previous Christmases where they have been forced to take unpaid leave.
“Some of us agency staff have worked at Croydon Council for years and have been cheated out of pay that is rightfully ours,” they say.
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