Thousands of supply teachers could be excluded from laws that guarantee equal rights to temporary staff on pay, holidays and working hours, a teachers' union has warned.
Supply teachers who take up jobs lasting less than a term risk not gaining any improvements in their terms and conditions under new rules proposed by the Government, according to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.
The proposals include giving temporary workers the same rights as permanent employees, but only after they have been in a job for 12 weeks. This will not cover supply staff, who often work for much shorter periods at specific schools, the union said.
Martin Freedman, the ATL's head of pay, conditions and pensions, said: "We had hoped that legislation would lead to improved conditions for supply teachers, but it looks like they could miss out completely.
"The qualifying period will exclude lots of agency teachers employed for less than one term. Supply teachers are very important to schools and are being treated as second-class citizens."
Figures suggest there are between 12,000 and 13,000 supply teachers working in England and Wales. Their pay levels are not covered by national scales, which means they can be paid less than permanent staff. Agencies often charge schools according to national pay scales but then take their cut before paying teachers, Mr Freedman said.
The 12-week qualifying period, now under consultation, would apply equally whether workers are employed full or part time.
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform said supply teachers who work in different schools but in the same local authority would still be covered.
But Mr Freedman said agencies still had room for manoeuvre which could mean supply staff miss out. He is backing demands from the TUC that the 12 weeks be allowed to be accumulated over a number of years rather than in one continuous period.
"What I can see happening otherwise is staff getting 11-week contracts and then no more work until a certain period of time has passed," Mr Freedman said.
The proposals - based on implementation of an EU directive on agency workers - do not suggest that supply staff be given access to pension schemes and sick pay.
The exemptions, which apply to agency workers in all industries, were agreed by the TUC, the Confederation of British Industry and the Government last year.
Mr Freedman conceded that it could be complicated to include supply teachers in the national pension scheme enjoyed by permanent staff, but said the ATL would continue to push for that change.
The issues follow other concerns about conditions for supply staff. The Apprenticeships Bill now going through Parliament includes rights for teachers to request time to study and train, but excludes supply staff.
Details of the consultation, which closes on July 31, are available at www.berr.gov.uk
RIGHTS FOR TEMPS
The European Union directive on agency workers aims to give equal rights to temporary staff on pay, working hours and holidays. The Government is proposing equal rights after staff have been working for 12 weeks, which
it claims will protect staff and allow for a flexible labour market. Temporary workers will not be given access to pension schemes and sick pay under the proposals.