4 December

Did you know that EU law helps to protect agency workers in the workplace?

Employers must treat temporary agency staff the same as directly employed staff, meaning that seasonal workers in retail, postal services and other seasonal industries get fairly treated. That’s the theory anyway.

Of course the quality of employers varies. There are decent employers out there who are fair to their staff and grant sensible time off.  USDAW, the union for retail staff, does a great job representing people in these roles, working hard to get good deals and sensible agreements. 

But we all know that some of the practices in the retail sector stink. It’s the industry where zero hour contracts are prevalent, where the staff are likely to work multiple jobs and where wages are held to the minimum. When I was writing a newspaper column some years back I drew attention to the raw deal for some of those working in retail who, after finishing work around 8pm on Christmas Eve would be expected to show up for work at 4am on Boxing Day to be ready for the ‘sale’ kicking off at 6am. I argued back then that we need a level playing field over holidays so that everyone can expect time off. Nobody needs a sale to begin at 6am, nobody needs to be dragged out of bed to work at one and everybody needs a decent break - particularly those who have been working the hardest at this time of year.

Of course the UK could have done this at any time - inside or outside the EU, but interesting isn’t it, that one of the owners of one of the big retail chains which is notorious for firing its staff before they acquire statutory employment rights was one of the big campaigners to get the UK out of the EU ‘so that employers can use more flexiblity in the Labour market’ - he’s also a big Tory doner.

So what next? Just how long do you think that promise over employment rights will last?

For now, let’s give staff in stores a break this Christmas - don’t give them grief, give them a smile.