Unite and BMW collaboration a win for agency workers

Unite Union's assistant general secretary for manufacturing, Tony Burke explains why the recent collaboration between BMW and Unite is a positive step forward for UK agency workers.

Tony Burke, Assistant General Secretary at Unite the Union
Tony Burke, Assistant General Secretary at Unite the Union

The announcement by Unite and BMW that they have reached an agreement that will secure permanent employment for approximately 1000 agency workers is an early Christmas present, not only for those workers who will benefit, but also for those unions that have been arguing that much more must be done to create permanent employment for the UK’s growing army of temporary and agency workers on whom many manufacturing companies overly rely.

A recent survey by Unite in the automotive sector shows that the main OEM’s and the supply chain are significant users of agency workers. We recognise that the growth of agency work in manufacturing went unchecked, and has undermined permanent employment in some cases, and we also know that agency work is not going to go away overnight.

Often permanent or core workers have turned a blind eye to the growth of agency working in their own sites in the mistaken belief that as core workers their own jobs would remain safe. Of course that has not been the case.

Often agency workers are non-unionised and face long term uncertainty, unable to get mortgages or loans because they cannot show they have permanent employment, tied down to pay and conditions below permanent staff with little prospect of getting training and the skills needed to gain permanent jobs.

So the BMW-Unite deal is a step in the right direction, a win-win situation and one that Unite intends to develop elsewhere.

With whole departments and manufacturing jobs being contracted out to agencies or service providers, (plus the mis-use of the so called Swedish Derogation to drive down pay and conditions that are well below that of permanent workers), the BMW deal points the way forward.

The initial recruitment phase covers 700 jobs and will start in 2014 with the recruitment process for the remaining 300 contracts starting in 2016.

The deal covers workers across a number of BMW sites including the Mini plant in Oxford, pressings plant in Swindon and Hams Hall engine site.

BMW deserves praise for taking this step as it underlines its commitment to the UK as a strategically important production location, and the deal is a good example of Unite and a major employer working together to make a lasting and positive impact in the workplace and the locality.