Leading recruitment firm Pertemps has reacted warily to new EU rules that could see temporary workers receiving the same rights as full-time staff.
Members of the European Parliament backed the agreement designed to give workers a level playing field at work.
But Pertemps director Roger Englefield said the firm would be waiting to see the details of the agreement, which critics say could destroy vital flexibility for employers just as they are under most pressure from the global financial crisis.
He said: “We don’t know quite what’s happening, and we are not expecting to get that detail. It’s a matter of waiting and seeing what the details are.
“Flexible working is what has made us as profitable as we are. In the current times flexibility is going to be key to our future.”
Pertemps, based in Meriden, is one of the largest suppliers of the UK’s 1.3 million agency workers.
The EU plan is to ensure temps enjoy the same rights in areas such as holidays and sick pay as permanent colleagues.
Once the rules are in force, they will be switched to the same basic terms as their full-time counterparts after being employed for 12 weeks.
The European Commission originally wanted equal rights to apply from the first day of an agency contract - and the UK Government wanted to make temps work for at least a year before qualifying.
The deadlock was broken when the CBI and TUC agreed on a 12-week threshold in exchange for a stronger UK opt-out from Europe’s working time rules., which limit workers to a maximum 48-hour week.
Bosses at Pertemps, including owner Tim Watts, have previously complained about the EU attitude towards temporary workers, which they said would make life harder for employers.
They were joined by a host of other critics, including Open Europe research director Mats Persson, who said the move would only increase costs for small businesses. He said: “On the brink of a recession, MEPs have done exactly the wrong thing: they’ve passed a law that will lead to fewer jobs and make life even harder for small businesses.
“Small businesses create millions of jobs and remain the backbone of the economy. The EU should be doing everything it can to help them beat the economic downturn.
“Instead EU politicians have chosen to impose additional red tape and strip small firms of vital flexibility. This is bad news for the UK and for Europe”.
But West Midlands MEP Liz Lynne described the plans as the “least worst deal” for the UK.
She said a once-size-fits-all law on temps clashed with different approaches to agency workers in different member states, adding: “While I do not think that the measures within the report are by any means perfect, I do regard it as the least-worst deal for UK businesses and employees.
“We must now put pressure on the UK Government to ensure this directive is implemented in a way that recognises the concerns of employers and recruitment agencies and avoids adding unnecessary bureaucracy and cost to the provision of agency workers.”
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber welcomed the decision, saying: “The passage into law of today’s directive means that opponents of more rights for temps have now lost, and the UK cannot now opt out of better rights for agency workers.”