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Projects threat from new rights

Key construction projects could be slowed down under proposals to give agency workers the same employment rights as permanent staff, engineering and construction bodies warned this week.

Bodies, including the Engineering Employers Federation and the Construction Products Association (CPA), warned that vital projects could slow down because firms would be more wary of taking on temporary staff.

The proposal came forward in a private members bill from Labour MP Andrew Miller. The bill won a second reading after 130 Labour MPs including Peter Hain and John Prescott defied the government and voted in favour.

"Construction has a flexibility which is very important to retain if the industry wants to remain competitive," said CPA director of external affairs Simon Storer. "A lot of agency workers are already very highly skilled and well paid."

An Engineering Employers Federation spokesman said: "It's using a hammer to crack a nut. We accept the need to protect vulnerable agency workers but there are a lot of agency workers that are highly paid and work this way for lifestyle reasons."

He added: "We accept there needs to be legislation but there needs to be a much longer qualification period before we treat a temporary worker equivalent to a full time worker. We would argue that should be 12 months."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown responded to the vote by promising to set up a tri-partite commission of CBI, Trade Union Congress and the government to agree arrangements for agency workers.

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