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ILO meeting on agencies exposes abuses, no consensus reached

20 October, 2011At the ILO Global Dialogue Forum on private employment agencies, unions put on record their experiences of employment through agencies being used to drive down wages and prevent agency workers from joining a union and bargaining collectively.

GLOBAL: On October 18-19, representatives of governments, private employment agencies and trade unions exchanged views on the role of agencies in promoting decent work. The discussions revealed that unions and agencies have completely different views on the impact of the growth of agency labour on employment.

The agencies repeatedly insisted that agency work is decent work, that it creates jobs and that it is never used to undermine or replace open-ended, direct employment. All of these claims were rejected by trade union representatives, who presented a catalogue of situations from a variety of industries around the world that demonstrated that agency employment is being used to systematically replace permanent jobs, lowering wages and conditions and leaving workers with no social protection and no possibility of joining a union or bargaining collectively with their employer. Worker delegates insisted that triangular employment relationships by their very nature make collective bargaining virtually impossible.

It rapidly became clear that the representatives of private employment agencies were using the meeting to seek legitimacy for their industry, to grow their markets and to be recognized as the sole counterpart for collective bargaining, at the exclusion of user enterprises. For their part, unions were seeking equal treatment for agency workers and restrictions on the circumstances under which agency employment is permissible, its duration and extent. Unions also wanted action to strengthen freedom of association and collective bargaining for agency workers which included user enterprises and unions representing workers in user enterprises.

At the end of the meeting, a very limited number of potential consensus points were put forward for discussion, but finally the meeting ended with no conclusions when agency representatives showed that they were not ready to negotiate in order to reach agreement.

Unions will continue to work within the framework of the ILO to ensure greater protection for agency workers and to limit the spread of agency work and triangular employment relationships.