Ministers have signalled that they may legislate to close the pay gap between temporary and permanent staff in further and higher education, writes Phil Baty.
The Department of Trade and Industry said this week that decisions on implementation had yet to be made, but that it accepted "there may be a case for specific UK legislation to cover the issue of equal pay".
The news came as lecturers' unions leaders this week spearheaded a Trades Union Congress campaign to ensure equal employment rights.
Launching its Permanent Rights for Temporary Workers campaign with new research, the TUC highlighted the higher and further education sectors.
The TUC warned that temporary workers were likely to miss out on new rights to equal pay and equal pensions under the European Union's Fixed-term Contract Directive.
According to the TUC, 1.7 million workers in the UK (7 per cent of the workforce) are on temporary contracts. Figures released by the Association of University Teachers show that some 42 per cent of academic staff are on fixed-term contracts and 94 per cent of research staff.
An AUT spokesman said: "There must be an end to the scandal of serial fixed-term employment."
Paul Mackney, general secretary of lecturers' union Natfhe, said employers should stop seeing temporary workers as a source of cheap labour.
The TUC report says that the treatment of temporary workers is "particularly bad" in further education, where 25 per cent of union representatives in colleges reported that temps were treated less favourably on pay, pensions and general conditions. In 48 per cent of colleges, a disproportionate number of women are employed in temporary work.
Its overall survey of 200 unionised workplaces found that half of firms pay temporary workers different rates from permanent workers.
Some 70 per cent of employers do not offer the same access to occupational pension schemes, and 25 per cent to not give access to contractual sick leave. Fourteen per cent do not give paid holidays.
The government is set to comply with the 1999 directive by July next year - a year later than intended. The DTI spokesman said the government was deferring implementation of the directive to take account of responses to consultation.