“For millions of people the world of work is like the Wild West,” Tim Roache, general secretary of the GMB union, said today. “People don’t know if they are coming or going. Why are they not given the basic right to plan their lives even a week in advance?”
Roache was responding to the Taylor Review, an attempt to identify the challenges of the modern workplace and come up with better policies for it. But despite being 115 pages long, it has caused disappointment on the left. The report had little to recommend in countering the worst effects of zero-hours contracts and the gig economy – two preoccupations of the Labour party.
Yet at the same time, buried in rhetoric about the “British way” and “flexible working”, were a couple of policies that could soon affect a workplace like yours. In particular, the report suggests a new category of worker known as a “dependent contractor”, who is not a full-time employee but is also not self-employed. Dependent contractors would be eligible for certain rights, and unlike the present situation, it would be hard for employers to dodge their obligations.
Here are some of the other proposals:
1. Less holiday, more pay
Workers who are not full-time employees often miss out on the paid holiday they are entitled to.
The Taylor Review recommends raising awareness of holiday rights, but it also suggests that individuals should have more choice over whether they get paid holiday, or receive it in extra pay instead. Since your annual leave is roughly 12 per cent of your hours worked, this would mean a 12 per cent pay rise. So a worker earning £7.50 an hour could forgo their holiday and get £8.41 an hour instead.
On the other hand, such a change might allow employers to pressurise workers into giving up their time off.
2. Overtime pay
According to the Work-life Balance Survey, roughly half of British workers don’t get paid for overtime.
This could change for the lowest-paid workers at least. The Taylor Review recommends that the government explores the idea of a higher national minimum wage rate for hours that are not guaranteed as part of a worker’s contract.
As the Resolution Foundation’s Torsten Bell notes: “For every Uber driver in Britain, there are 100 workers doing paid overtime.”
3. Taxes for the self-employed
The report takes a rather unsympathetic view of the self-employed. Its main recommendations are that the government cracks down on the “hidden economy” – think builders and gardeners who prefer to be paid in cash so they can quietly avoid paying taxes – by making them file their accounts digitally.
However, given the median annual earnings from self-employment have fallen from £14,535 in 2007-8 to £10,800 in 2013-14, there might not be much tax to be taken for the majority.
4. Employment tribunal fees
The report criticises employment tribunal fees but – typical of its cautious approach – falls short of demanding the government scraps them. Instead, it merely requests that they stay “under review”.
However, Taylor also notes that a common employer dodge is to argue the worker isn’t eligible for the tribunal in the first place. In some cases, the worker may pay up to £1,200 only for the court to decide their case isn’t eligible to be heard.
The review recommends the burden of proof is reversed, so the employer has to prove the worker isn’t eligible for employment rights, rather than the other way round.
5. Zero-hours contracts
The report stops short of calling for a ban on zero-hours contracts. Instead, it says workers who have been on the contract for a long time should be able to ask for a fixed-hours contract.
This may sound good on principle, but since it leaves the burden of asking to the worker, in practice it is likely to mean little without a concerted campaign to empower employees.
6. Agency admin fees
The report noted that agencies increasingly use umbrella companies to pay agency workers, which deduct between £15 and £35 a week in admin fees from workers’ salaries. This would be unlawful if carried out by a regular employer.
It recommends considering more policing of these umbrella companies, hopefully allowing some agency workers to keep more of what they earn.
7. Gig economy data
The report recommends gig economy workers using online platforms like Uber and Deliveroo should have their rights protected under piecework laws, which are designed to ensure workers who are paid per task receive the minimum wage. In addition, it wants platforms to share data with users so they know how much they are likely to earn if they log on at a certain time.