Employers of seasonal staff need to be aware of the provisions of the Agency Workers Directive that came into force this month, growers have been warned.
JG Recruitment Specialists director Dr Julia Gardner said: "The directive is there to give agency staff equal treatment to permanent staff. So if you have a member of staff on £25,000 doing the same work as an agency worker on the minimum wage, after 12 weeks you will have to pay them the same."
She cautioned that employers who tried to duck such obligations by terminating and recommencing contracts with temporary staff could be liable to a £5,000 fine. However, this has yet to be tested in the courts, she added.
"A lot of companies have buried their heads in the sand about this until now, although there has been a lot of support from recruiters and industry bodies."
The UK enactment makes use of the so-called Swedish derogation, which excludes staff employed directly by agencies from the equal pay obligation.
But Gardner pointed out: "They would still have to have full terms and conditions of employment in their contract, including elements such as holiday pay. They are likely to pass on those."
The Association of Labour Providers has played down the impact of the directive. Director David Camp said: "Labour providers have been preparing for this for some time and have put procedures in place.
"We have been running training courses over the past 18 months and continue to do so, as well as providing template contracts and guidance documents."
He continued: "It will mean some changes in administration systems. But there is no reason it should add to labour costs, if businesses look at their pattern of labour use and the structure of their remuneration in totality."
Licensing check - Standards under review
The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) has said that for now it will not be checking employers for compliance with the Agency Workers Directive (AWD).
Director of strategy Darryl Dixon told Grower: "We have no intention to do so at the moment. We enforce against licensing standards and we are undertaking a review of these.
"How AWD is reflected in those standards depends on the conclusion of that consultation. Any changes will then be enforced from next April," he added.