An agency worker (or temporary agency worker) is a person who has an agreement with an agency to work for another person.
For example, a secretary may have an agreement with an employment agency to do work for an office while one of their employees is on leave.
While agency workers do not have all the same employment rights as regular workers, agency workers have the right to equal treatment in basic working and employment conditions. This is set out in the EU Directive on Temporary Agency Work (see ‘Legislation covering equal treatment’ below).
Who is an agency worker?
You are an agency worker if you are employed by an employment agency and are temporarily assigned to work for another organisation (the hirer).
Who is not an agency worker?
The following workers are not considered agency workers:
- People working as independent contractors or who own their own business, who are placed by an employment agency. In this case the contractor is a client or customer of the hirer.
- Some workers employed under a managed service contract. This is a contract for services (for example cleaning), where the contractor is responsible for managing and delivering the service.
- Workers who are on the Work Place Experience Programme, Community Employment, TÚS or any Department of Social Protection vocational training or re-training scheme.
You can get more information about understanding your employment status.
Who is considered my employer?
This depends on which employment rights you are seeking to enforce.
For the purposes of most employment legislation (exceptions below), the party who pays your wages will, normally, be considered to be your employer. This is either the employment agency or the client company.
The Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2003 clarifies the social insurance position of agency workers. It confirms that agency workers are insurably employed and the person who pays the wages is the employer for PRSI purposes.
Under the unfair dismissals legislation, your employer is the person for whom you actually work rather than the agency.
Compliance with health and safety requirements is also the responsibility of the person or organisation for whom you actually work rather than the agency.
Entitlement to equal treatment
Agency workers must have equal treatment with regular workers from their first day at work.
As an agency worker, you have the same basic employment conditions as if you had been directly recruited by the hirer. These basic employment and working conditions are:
This includes the duration of working time, rest periods, breaks, night work, annual leave and public holidays.
This is defined as basic pay, shift premium, piece work, overtime, unsocial hours worked, and Sunday work.
The legislation does not include occupational pension schemes, sick pay, bonuses, maternity pay or benefit in kind.
If you have a permanent contract with the agency and are paid between assignments, you will not be entitled to equal treatment on pay.
Access to facilities
You must have equal access to facilities such as childcare, canteen and car parking. You must also be told about permanent employment opportunities.
Legislation covering equal treatment
The rules on equal treatment are set out in the Protection of Employees (Temporary Agency Work) Act 2012.
The Workplace Relations Commission has guidance on the Protection of Employees (Temporary Agency Work) Act 2012 (pdf).
Part-time agency workers
If you are a part-time agency worker, you can only compare yourself to a comparable full-time employee who is also an agency worker. These rules are set out in the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act 2001.
Other laws that protect agency workers
As an agency worker, you also have certain rights under the following employment legislation:
- Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977–2007
- Redundancy Payments Acts 1967–2014
- Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Acts 1973–2005
- Organisation of Working Time Act 1997
- Payment of Wages Act 1991
- Maternity Protection Acts 1994 and 2004
- Employment Equality Acts 1998–2015
It is important that you know who is responsible for ensuring compliance with employment protection legislation - the agency or the firm you work for (the hirer). See ‘Who is considered my employer?’ above.
Legislation that does not apply to agency workers
The Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003 applies to most employees on fixed-term contracts. It does not apply to agency workers placed by a temporary work agency to work in another organisation. However, the Act does apply to agency workers employed directly by an employment agency.
If you think you have been victimised as an agency worker
Agency workers are protected against being victimised for reporting breaches of the Protection of Employees (Temporary Agency Work) Act 2012.
This means that the hirer or the agency cannot penalise you by dismissal, unfair treatment or an unfavourable change in your conditions of employment.
Making a complaint
You can make a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission about a breach of your rights as an agency worker. You should use the online complaint form.
You must make the complaint within 6 months of the dispute taking place. The time limit may be extended for a further 6 months, if there is a reasonable cause which prevented you from bringing the complaint within the normal time limit.
You can find out more about the rights of agency workers from Workplace Relations Commission's Information and Customer Service - see address below.
Regulation of employment agencies
Employment agencies in Ireland are regulated by the Employment Agency Act 1971. Under the Act, an employment agency must have a licence to operate its business. Details of the application procedure and a list of licensed employment agencies (pdf) are available on the website of the Workplace Relations Commission.