job market

Sharp rise in temp agency workers

3:09 min

Since last year the money spent on hiring staff via temping agencies has risen by 33 per cent. And in the sectors of manufacturing and building work the rise is much bigger - around 60 per cent in both cases.

Henrik Bäckström is the head of the agencies' association: Swedish Staffing Agencies. He says that the rise will increase - will double.

But while the agencies may be growing, it is from a very low start. Employment agencies were banned in Sweden until 1994, and currently only employ about 60,000 people, or 1.5 per cent of the labour force. A doubling would only bring the agencies level with the situation in the Netherlands and the UK, says Henrik Bäckström.

However, in Sweden a turn towards using agency staff has less of an impact than in countries like Britain.

Due to the strong position of Swedish unions, most workers are part of a collective agreement - whether agency or directly employed. And this means that their conditions will be similar to any other people working for the same company.

The major industrial union in Sweden is OF Metall. Anna Gustavsson is one of the negotiators there, and she says to Radio Sweden that her union has no problem with agencies providing more workers - as long as they are all covered by the collective agreement.

What her union is worried about is the general trend, towards more staff on short contracts, after the mass layoffs of 2008 and 2009.

But there is still a clear benefit for companies, in using employment agencies.

According to Henrick Bäckström at the industry association, employment agencies offer a quicker way to downsize employees, in the event of a recession.

"For example, the car industry during the financial crisis. It was quite difficult for those employers to downsize their operations. It took many months, even if they had closed down production. Compare that to just making a phone call to a staffing agency, and just saying, 'we are not producing any cars any more, so you do not have to send any personnel to our company next Monday. It's finished.'"