Temporary Agency Work

Private employment agencies (according to Article 1 of Convention No. 181) are any enterprises or persons, independent of the public authorities, which provide one or more of the following labour market services: (a) services for matching offers of and applications for employment; (b) services for employing workers with a view to making them available to a third party (“user enterprise”); or (c) other services relating to jobseeking, such as the provision of information, that do not aim to match specific employment offers and applications.

Temporary agency employment is where a worker is employed by the temporary work agency, and then hired out to perform his/her work at (and under the supervision of) the user company. There is considered to be no employment relationship between the temporary agency worker and the user company, although there could be legal obligations of the user company towards the temporary agency worker, especially with respect to health and safety. The relevant labour contract is of limited or unspecified duration with no guarantee of continuation. The hiring firm pays fees to the agency, and the agency pays the wages (even if the hiring company has not yet paid the agency). Flexibility for both worker and employer is a key feature of agency work.

On 18-19 October 2011, the Tripartite Global Dialogue Forum on the Role of Private Employment Agencies in Private Services Sectors, was held at the ILO in Geneva, which exchanged views on private employment agencies and temporary agency work. The Final report of the discussion gives a full summary of its proceedings. The purpose of the meeting was to focus specifically on private services sectors (especially hotels, commerce, finance, media and telecommunications) as regards promoting decent work, expansion of protection for temporary workers, and improving the functioning of labour markets in private services on the basis of an Issues paper prepared by the Office. The Forum was attended by 144 participants, including 25 Government representatives and five advisers, one representative of the European Commission, as well as 62 Worker and 50 Employer representatives.

Several research studies have been prepared in 2013 for the Sectoral Policies Department (SECTOR) on the impact of the Private Employment Agencies Convention, 1997 (No. 181); the framework for operation of private employment agencies; employment conditions; and treatment as regards such issues as pay, social protection, leave and pensions in selected countries, providing sectoral information as appropriate. The first such paper, on Morocco, was already published in September 2011. These research papers have been prepared in 2013 on Argentina, Chile, China, the Netherlands, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay. They consist of (a) statistical and empirical research on private employment agencies and agency work and/or (b) legal research on whether and how the provisions of Convention No. 181 are reflected by laws and regulations and by practice in selected countries.

In October 2009, over 100 participants – Government, Worker and Employer representatives plus European Commission and international nongovernmental organizations representatives attended the ILO Tripartite Workshop to promote ratification of the Private Employment Agencies Convention, 1997 (No. 181). A summary of the discussion is provided in the Report of the discussion.