Yesterday the Taylor report was launched by Prime Minister, Theresa May.
The report was commissioned in October 2016 to look into “Employment Practices in the Modern Economy”. The review was chaired by Matthew Taylor, CEO of the Royal Society of Arts and former political advisor to Tony Blair.
The report was ordered after a series of cases highlighting the exploitation of workers in the “gig economy”, the use of bogus self-employment and the scandal that is zero hours contracts.
The report is, unfortunately, a complete let down and demonstrates only too well the complete failure of our elected politicians and civic figures to truly understand and engage with the problems facing the modern workforce.
The report is written from an entirely pro-business/anti-worker standpoint and does little to help those workers facing increasing exploitation in the workplace.
Theresa May has promised that, although the report sets out modest new protections for workers in the gig economic, there will be no additional “overbearing red tape” or “regulation” on companies.
The report recommends a new category of employment status - the “dependent contractor”. It is proposed that this will be a status given to a worker, in the gig economy, if they are under “control” and “supervision” of the employer. In these circumstances that worker should be given holiday pay, sick pay and, in most cases, receive the minimum wage. It is alleged that this would be a category, clearly different from the self-employed.
This is an entirely unnecessary addition to employment law in the UK. Cases have already been won demonstrating that many of those working in the gig economy are, in fact, workers under the current law and therefore should already have entitlement to holiday pay, sick pay and the minimum wage. Many of those working in the gig economy should already have worker status. There is no need to make a new category of employment status. Instead employers should simply recognise them as the workers which they are.
One of the few benefits within the report which would assist with this issue, is the suggestion that “Government should ensure individuals are able to get an authoritative determination of their employment status without paying any fee and at an expedited preliminary hearing”. This is something which, if implemented, would be of genuine assistance to those seeking clarification on their employment status.
Zero hours & “nice employers”
On zero hours contracts the report does not recommend a ban. Instead, it recommends that workers should be able to “request” fixed hours. Unless this is backed up with a right to take the matter to the Employment Tribunal if the request is not granted this is a toothless and meaningless new “right”. And even it was enforceable, the worker would still have to pay the £1200 fee to get their case to the Tribunal.
This proposal, and the report more generally, appears to be based around the suggestion that more regulation is not needed and employers just have to be a bit more “responsible”. This is an utterly preposterous suggestion. Employers will not simply “be nice” to workers because the Government asks them to, or it’s the right thing to do. It is only legislation, with enforceable rights, which will hit employers in the pocket when they act illegally, that will make any difference.
From equal pay to the minimum wage, from pregnancy discrimination to increasing women on boards employers do not do these things, by choice. They do it because they have to. Employers have been exploiting gig economy workers for some time now.
In what has become a race to the bottom on employment conditions, the solution of employers “being nice” is not going to cut it.
Platform based working
The suggestion about “platform based working” also, would appear, to be based on entirely the wrong problem. Rather than focusing on the exploitation of workers, particularly women, young or part-time workers, the Taylor report concerns itself with self-employed cleaners and tradesmen doing “homers” and whether or not they are paying tax on their “cash in hand” jobs.
This spectacularly misses the point. This is especially so given the large scale tax evasion that goes on with multinational companies and rich bankers with tax havens abroad, which comes at a considerable cost to the UK taxpayer each year in lost tax revenue. Tackling the non-payment of tax for those earning a few quid at the weekend is hardly going to make a dent in the problem. The question ought to be, why do those working full-time need to work at the weekend? Answer: low wages, and a failure in the economy to make sure work pays.
And what does the Taylor report say about wages? The report recommends that gig economy employers would not have to pay the minimum wage for every hour worked! This would be a worsening of employment conditions, and a further driving down of basic rights.
The Taylor review recommends that if a worker choses to work a shift, in the knowledge that they will not be paid the minimum wage, they will not be able to make a claim under the minimum wage regulations because “they choose” to work at that time.
Again, this is far from the reality of working people’s lives. Most workers in the gig economy require to fit work around child care, caring for elderly relatives and a myriad of other daily activities and responsibilities. Many do not “chose” when they work. They simply have to take the shifts that are on offer, to make ends meet. Those on zero hours contracts live in fear of turning down work in case they are never offered any shifts again.
Having different rates for different times of work will simply result in those in the most need being exploited and continually being paid under the minimum wage. If there is a sign up option everyone will try to sign up to the higher paying shifts, meaning those are oversubscribed, with the lower paying shifts left for those desperate for money. No one “chooses” to work for less than the minimum wage.
Again, the idea on holiday pay is taking employment law back 20 years. “Rolled up” holiday pay is not currently permitted because the law, as it stands, states that there should be no “disincentive” to workers taking holidays. The suggestion in the report allows workers not to take holidays and be paid more for those holidays instead. It defeats the very purpose of holidays. Holidays are designed to allow workers a period of rest and recuperation from the workplace. Paying workers for holidays and workers not taking holidays is completely contrary to this.
What this does mean, is that those struggling to make ends meet will not take holidays. They will take the extra money and take very little holidays – if any – each year. Time off work will, again, become a luxury for those who can afford it. There is nothing progressive or “flexible” about this.
Overall, the Taylor Report is deeply disappointing. It demonstrates the failure of those in charge to really engage with ordinary working people, understand their lives and devise solutions which will make things better, not worse.
We all must guard against a race to the bottom of our employment rights and conditions. This report is just a start. Post a hard Brexit and out with the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice could mean a significant rolling back of our hard-fought for rights. We must resist.