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A real-life story of exploitation

Employment agencies are the scourge of jobseekers. Bernadette Horton tells of her son’s experiences in his hunt for work

Here where I live in north Wales full-time work is a thing of the past.

What work does exist is seasonal and part-time zero-hours contracts are the new norm, and jobcentres are increasingly directing jobseekers towards agencies.

My own 21-year-old son has been a victim of these agencies.

He has worked seasonally since leaving school at a holiday resort on the coast, but he wants a job that will employ him year-round to avoid annual winter bouts of unemployment.

His jobcentre adviser gave him details of a factory that was taking on workers, but these workers were being employed through an agency.

He went along and signed up with the agency which asked him to turn up at a factory some 15 miles from our town as there was full-time work available at good rates and the job was permanent.

But there was no bus service. The best route was by train and his fare was £10, which I paid for.

The next day he turned up at 7am as requested. He was told to report to the manager and then he was taken to an assembly line.

He asked about an induction and training for the job but was laughed off and told: "You will pick it up as you go along."

At 11am he was summoned to the office and told he could go home. He was told to phone the agency "to see if there is work for you tomorrow."

My son was more than stunned and asked why he had to go home. The manager replied there was no more work for him that day and hadn't the agency explained that the factory hired staff by the amount of work there was available?

My son returned home and phoned the agency which said it should have been explained that he should phone them each evening to see what the work situation was for the following day.

I was more than annoyed. Images of workers years ago queuing at the docks for a day's pay came to mind.

My son remained enthusiastic, however, and was sure things would pick up.

The following day he again travelled to the factory, but this time was told there was no work at all available that day. He immediately telephoned the agency which advised him there had been a "mix-up" and said that my son should return home.

Another £10 out of pocket on fares.

That night he was assured by the agency that there was work the following day, so he again made the trip.

Once again he was told there was no work for him that day and he phoned me in despair.

My husband and I went to pick him up. I told him that I would not let a son of mine be so degraded and he rang the agency to tell them he could not carry on like this.

The person he spoke to said if he quit the "job" he could face sanctions at the jobcentre if he attempted to sign on as unemployed again.

My son got some great advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau, which told him to argue with the jobcentre that there was no "job."

Luckily the jobcentre adviser saw my son's plight and allowed him to sign back on without any sanctions imposed.

After my son's experience, I delved further into these agencies and asked around my son's friends for their experiences - and there are some horrifying tales of exploitation.

It appears that factories especially are almost entirely staffed from agencies and the workers can be hired and fired, literally, by the hour at will.

The unscrupulous factories are compromising health and safety by not providing inductions and are shrugging off employers' duty of care in many instances to staff.

I have been told that bullying occurs on a regular basis too as factories are attracting many eastern Europeans and racial tensions flare daily in a working environment that is not conducive to the people who work there.

Some big-name shops are also introducing agency workers to their staff complements, creating a two-tier workforce.

The agency workers have no rights - on hours worked, sickness pay, holiday pay and can be hired and fired at will - while those employed directly have some employment benefits.

Agency workers will be looking on with envy, hoping their employer will switch them to a direct permanent contract after a period of time - often in vain.

Zero-hours contracts and agency working may occasionally suit some people who want some flexibility in their working hours.

But employers have ruthlessly exploited this loophole and now we have a fearful workforce in our shops and factories with no rights and no stability.

The coalition government is supporting employers in exploiting their workforces - Labour needs to eradicate this injustice and legislate if it wins power in 2015. Nothing less will do.

Bernadette Horton blogs at


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