Tuesday, February 25, 2014

US Temps Need Protection

 Since the 2007-09 recession, temp work has been one of the fastest growing segments of the economy. Also the rise of just-in-time manufacturing and online shopping means companies often don’t know how many orders they will have—and how many workers they will need to fill them—until that very morning. A practice called “permatemping,” has developed which is hiring a temp for years to do the same job permanent employees do, but without the benefits and protections. In the United States, temp workers often hold temp jobs for years. In America, every day, thousands of workers, many of them immigrants, are picked up on street corners by temp agency vans, whose drivers charge them exorbitant fees for the ride without telling them where they’re going to work.

The United States, which has some of the weakest labor protections for temp workers in the developed world, according to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which produces research on behalf of 34 of the world’s industrialized nations. The OECD statistics rank the United States 41st among 43 developed and emerging economies and shows the degree of legislation available for protecting temp workers who federal and state officials say are among the most vulnerable. In Chile, a temp agency can be shut down if it failed to pay a worker his or her wages or put him in harm’s way. In South Korea, temporary contracts are limited to two years, after which the company would have to hire the temp as a regular employee.  In Japan and Italy, the limit is three years. In the Czech Republic, it’s 12 months. In Germany, there would be a guarantee of the same wages and working conditions as employees hired directly by the company. Countries such as France and Bulgaria restrict temp assignments to temporary situations such as filling in for absent workers or when companies have sudden increases in work. Others, like South Africa, cap the number of temps companies can hire to 30 percent of their workforce. At least 12 countries have banned companies from hiring temps in dangerous industries or to do hazardous work. In Argentina, South Korea and Japan, for example, temp workers are prohibited in the construction industry. In Poland, the restrictions are even more specific: Temp workers can’t be assigned to work at heights, in confined spaces such as tanks or containers, inside machines or with hazardous materials.

Of course, having strong labor laws on the books doesn’t necessarily mean they’re enforced. For example, Brazil has some of the world’s strictest temp worker regulations. In Brazil,temp contracts are limited to three months unless the ministry of labor grants an extension. But it also has an enormous underground economy in which workers are paid informally and abuses go unchecked. And a country’s protections for its temp workers may not apply to guest workers brought in from other countries for major construction projects or domestic work. State and local authorities need to be vigilant or temp agencies will continue to abuse workers. “The law is good if they follow it, but they are not following the law. They do whatever they want,”  said one temp “They are taking advantage of immigrants because they know we cannot ask for our rights.”

Even worldwide leaders in the temp business acknowledge that reforms are needed to rein in practices that have given their industry a bad name. Denis Pennel, managing director of the International Confederation of Private Employment Agencies which represents temp trade groups from 47 countries supported reforms such as equal pay and licensing for agencies. The group, he said, is also open to limiting the length of temp jobs. “Usually the maximum length of assignment is about two years,” Pennel said. “I would say we can live with that.”

Carl Camden, chief executive officer of Kelly Services, one of the largest temp agencies in the United States, said that permatemping in general is a “bad concept.”

Unlike the United States, about three-quarters of the countries tracked by OECD require temp agencies to register or become licensed before they can begin sending out workers.

At least 20 large countries call for financial guarantees to protect workers’ wages if the company goes out of business. When a U.S. temp agency goes bankrupt, workers are often left unpaid and must seek their wages in court or from the company to which they were assigned.Slovenia has perhaps the strictest licensing rules. It requires temp agency managers to have a college degree, at least two years of experience and to have passed a professional exam before the agency can be licensed. “It’s because you have a lot of precarious agencies,” said Denis Stok of ZdruzenjeAgencijzaZaposlovanje, the Slovenian temp agency association. “If there are any irregularities that were found, they would just close down a company and start somewhere else. That’s why they have made it more difficult to start a company.” Massachusetts, New Jersey and Illinois passed laws requiring temp agencies to register with state authorities. The new laws also limit the fees agencies can charge. And in Illinois, Massachusetts and California, agencies must give workers notice of where they’re going to work and how much they’ll be paid.

From here

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