According to reports in The Independent this week, SNP strategists are considering the option of Scotland joining the circle of Scandinavian countries as part of the Prospectus for Independence. But many workers in the Scottish Government will be deeply unimpressed with one Swedish model apparently being imposed upon them.

In 2010/11, Scottish Government spent over £6.8 million on temporary agency staff. With the ongoing recruitment freeze, the work of civil servants departing from permanent posts is increasingly covered by agency workers, with the majority of administrative and support staff roles in the Scottish Government supplied by the recruitment agency Pertemps.

Since 1 October, under the new Agency Workers’ Directive, after twelve weeks’ work temps should gain the rights to the same basic employment and working conditions as if they had been recruited directly by the company where they are based – mostly the right to the same pay, holidays and working hours.

You would think matching civil service pay, holidays and terms and conditions for agency staff would be an achievement the SNP government would be proud to implement, given their commitment to improving workers’ conditions through policies like the living wage. However, the Scottish Government, no doubt beholden to some decision made in Whitehall, appears happy to let private companies legally bypass protections for vulnerable agency staff working in our corridors of power.

Pertemps is one of many private firms understood to be using the Swedish derogation model as a loophole to get out of the Agency Worker Regulations. Also known as “pay between assignments”, the model is derived from an opt-out clause Sweden negotiated when the Agency Workers’ Directive was agreed at EU level.

Basically, if an agency worker is made into a permanent employee of the recruitment agency, they do not gain the same basic rights of employees of the organisation where they are placed after 12 weeks’ work. Therefore the hundreds of agency staff the Scottish Government is paying over £6m on each year are probably working to implement and deliver government policy without the right to equivalent pay, holidays and working hours as the civil servants doing the same job, all because they are permanent employees of a recruitment agency, and just happen to be placed in a Scottish Government office.

It can be argued that the Swedish derogation is better than nothing. As an employee of the recruitment agency, the temp gains protection against unfair dismissal after one year and the right to basic redundancy pay after two years. They also have to be paid for at least four weeks between postings, and receive at least 50% of their last pay packet or the minimum wage, whichever is greater. However, if the temp’s contract says they can be placed on varying working hours anywhere across the country, with very little advance warning, they could be placed on a low-hour contract somewhere miles away instead of receiving pay between postings, and threatened with dismissal for gross misconduct if they don’t turn up.

Pertemps proudly displays its various good employer credentials on its website – including Investors in People and the Sunday Times Top 100 Companies to Work For. If they are implementing the Swedish derogation, and making all the temps they place in Scottish Government and other organisations permanent Pertemps employees, it will be interesting to see how long they can hold on to such accolades. And it will be even more interesting to see if the Scottish Government is happy to have a second-class workforce within its employ.