Temporary employment agency working in the UK : theoretical issues and empirical evidence
This study examines the phenomenon of temporary employment agency working in two areas of the UK, Leeds and Telford. Recent debates on the changing nature of the employment relationship have focused on purported moves towards non-standard working, and have increased the need for a closer examination of individual forms of employment. The temporary employment agency is one of a number of contemporary and historical forms of labour market intermediary, and this thesis starts by attempting to identify the distinctive features of this particular form of working. Analysis then focuses on the unique nature of the employment agency industry in the UK. The distinction is made between agencies that found employment relationships and then step out of the picture and agencies, such as temporary employment agencies which can potentially ‘remain in the picture’ for some time, building relationships with workers and firms. The custom in the UK of carrying out temporary help and permanent placement from the same agency is also discussed. A comparison of legislation pertaining to agency working across Europe reveals the diverse interpretations that have been given to the role of the temporary employment agency. The empirical focus of the thesis is on two of the three parties in the employment agency relationship, the employment agency worker and the employment agency itself. Through large-scale survey analysis, the conduct of an original questionnaire to agency workers in two areas of the UK, and in-depth interviews with agency workers and managers an attempt is made to assess the significance and implications of this form of working. A central aim is to explore the implications of the intervention of the temporary employment agency between worker and firm, and to investigate the relationships which emerge as a result of this intervention. At an empirical level, these aims are realised via the identification of the personal and employment characteristics of agency workers in the UK and a comparison of these characteristics with other groups of employees. The experience of agency working is examined from the perspective of the agency worker, focusing on both tangible and attitudinal measures of this experience. An assessment is made of the nature of the relationships between the three parties in employment agency working. Such an analysis allows insight into a number of issues, including : the nature of agency working; the role of the employment agency in shaping developments in the industry; the reasons for recourse to agencies by firms and workers; and the impact of local labour market characteristics on the above issues.