Agency employment concerns raised at TBS

Concerns have been raised over the use of temporary workers at Random House's distribution arm TBS.

The distributor is understood to be using agency temporary workers employed on Swedish derogation contracts, which exempt employers from EU rules on temp pay and conditions.

Well-placed sources have claimed to The Bookseller that the same temporary staff members can work at TBS on such contracts for periods lasting several years.

Under the UK's regulations and the EU Temporary Agency Workers Directive, agency workers are entitled to the same pay and conditions as permanent staff doing the same job after 12 weeks.

However, a Swedish derogation contract exempts the agency from having to pay the worker the same rate of pay, as long as the agency directly employs individuals and guarantees to pay them for at least four weeks during the times they can't find them work.

The contracts are seen as controversial by some, and earlier this year the TUC union lodged a formal complaint with the European Commission against the UK government for failing to implement the Temporary Agency Workers Directive properly, saying that the “flawed implementation of the EU Directive has allowed the abuse of the so-called 'Swedish derogation'—where employment agencies routinely pay agency workers far less than permanent staff doing the same job”.

A Random House spokesperson said that TBS did not employ anyone on Swedish derogation contracts but added: "Temporary staff provided by a third party employment agency can be on Swedish derogation contracts." A TBS spokesman said: “The majority of our distribution workers are permanent employees, however, similar to most distribution companies, we have additional temporary staff to help manage the irregular peaks and troughs of workflow both on a seasonal and week-by-week basis. We use a third party agency to provide temporary staff and as with all our suppliers, we ensure they are fully legally compliant.”

Union Unite confirmed it is in currently in negotiations with TBS over pay, together with a "whole range of employment practices", but declined to comment further until negotiations had concluded.

The TUC has said the number of Swedish derogation contracts has grown rapidly since 2011. Around one in six agency workers are now on these contracts, according to a report form the Recruitment and Employment Confederation.

However, Unite Scotland officer Norman King said that the HarperCollins distribution operation at Bishopriggs did not use employees on Swedish derogation. “All temps employed are recruited via their family-friendly policy leading to full-time employment," he said. “Their rate goes up in increments based on their training (five stages) and their initial probationary period.”