Taylor Review On Working Practices In 2017 - Just Another Review?

Matthew Taylor's review on today's work design and the need to make changes, or not, has been widely anticipated and especially by Trade Unions.

Pic: Taylor Review cover pagePressure from Labour MPs in Parliament, the TUC and Trade Unions about the so-called 'Gig economy', zero-hour contracts, and low pay; have prompted the government to instigate a review of working practices.

But like all reviews, the question is will any of the recommendations be implemented by the Government, or indeed, is the report 'feeble' or 'spot on' and it's recommendations worth implementing?

This morning's response from CWU's General Secretary, Dave Ward was one of justified derision:

"For workers across the UK the labour market is like the Wild West. Exploitation is exploitation whether it’s in a sweat shop or at the end of an iPhone and the Taylor Review falls way short of addressing the problems workers face. 

With six million people earning less than a genuine living wage, it is astonishing that this review is watering down workers’ rights to the minimum wage. Far from creating a country that works for everyone, Theresa May is creating a country in which we work until we drop."

Pic: Dave WardConcluding Dave focused on what re-action from the Trade Union movement there should be:

"The question for trade unions is what we’re going to do about it. It's time for the union movement to come together in a concerted campaign to end insecure employment and in work poverty by making greater demands on behalf of all workers.

The CWU is calling for an agreement on a common bargaining agenda, a trade union manifesto on what constitutes a new deal for workers and a well constructed plan including action to achieve it. 

"It's incumbent upon unions to step up, work together and deliver a new kind of trade unionism. We must make the future world of work the number one political issue and organise workers everywhere."

Matthew Taylor, former policy chief to Tony Blair and Labour Party advisor has produced his 116 page report: Good Work 2017 - The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices.

It can be downloaded by clicking on the pic of the cover, above right.

The report in fact is an endorsement of a flexible workforce, which Trade Unions and others deride as simply meaning low wages, long hours and minimum worker's rights:

" ‘The British way’ works and we don’t need to overhaul the system. But persistent issues with wage growth and productivity provide sufficient rationale for us to look at how the labour market framework could be improved.

We need to make sure the labour market remains dynamic enough to adapt successfully to new business models, automation and the uncertainty associated with Brexit.

The Review believes that maintaining the flexible and adaptable approach to labour market regulation that has benefitted the UK so far, but focusing more closely on the quality of work as well as the number of people employed, will take us in the right direction."

Put bluntly, no wonder Theresa May is defending the report and saying she fully endorses it!

Before laying out the reasons why good work matters, the Summary of working methods lays out the basic principle:

'The work of this Review is based on a single overriding ambition: All work in the UK economy should be fair and decent with realistic scope for development and fulfillment."

Referring to the approach to making recommendations, the report says "we have focused broadly on three challenges" and lists them as:

• Tackling exploitation and the potential for exploitation at work;
• Increasing clarity in the law and helping people know and exercise their rights; and
• Over the longer term, aligning the incentives driving the nature of our labour market with our modern industrial strategy and broader national objectives.

The recommendations, are actually buried in the report itself, within the context of the evidence referred to; rather than listed separately. Here are the most pertinent:

Sickness benefits

* Government should reform Statutory Sick Pay so that it is explicitly a basic employment right, comparable to the National Minimum Wage, for which all workers are eligible regardless of income from day 1. It should be payable by the employer and should be accrued on length of service, in a similar way to paid holiday currently. Government should ensure that there is good awareness of the right amongst workers and businesses.

Pregnant workers

* Government should review and, in any event, consolidate in one place guidance on the legislation which protects those who are pregnant or on maternity leave to bring clarity to both employers and employees. In parallel with the range of non-legislative options and the consolidation set out above, the Government should consider further options for legislative intervention. If improvements around leadership, information and advice do not drive the culture change we are seeking, the Government will need
to move quickly to more directive measures to prevent pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

Worker status and definition

“The meaning of the term “worker” is ambiguous. The legal definition is excessively vague.”

* Government should replace the minimalistic approach to legislation with a clearer outline of the tests for employment status, setting out the key principles in primary legislation, and using secondary legislation.

* Government should retain the current three-tier approach to employment status as it remains relevant in the modern labour market, but rename as ‘dependent contractors’ the category of people who are eligible for worker rights but who are not employees.

The Tax system

* In developing the new ‘dependent contractor’ test, renewed effort should be made to align the employment status framework with the tax status framework to ensure that differences between the two systems are reduced to an absolute minimum.

Employment Rights and terms and conditions

* Government should build on and improve clarity, certainty and understanding of all
working people by extending the right to a written statement to ‘dependent contractors’ as well as employees.

* Government should build on legislative changes to further improve clarity and understanding by providing individuals and employers with access to an online tool that determines employment status in the majority of cases.

Wages and the 'gig' economy and 'zero hours' contracts

* The Government should ask the Low Pay Commission to consider the design and impacts of the introduction of a higher National Minimum Wage rate for hours that are not guaranteed as part of the contract.

* Government should act to create a right to request a contract that guarantees hours which better reflect the actual hours worked, for those on zero hour contracts who have been in post for 12 months.

Agency workers

* Government should amend the legislation to improve the transparency of information which must be provided to agency workers both in terms of rates of pay and those responsible for paying them.

* Government should do more to promote awareness of holiday pay entitlements, increasing the pay reference period to 52 weeks to take account of seasonal variations and give dependent contractors the opportunity to receive rolled-up holiday pay.

* The Government should introduce a right to request a direct contract of employment for agency workers who have been placed with the same hirer for 12 months, and an obligation on the hirer to consider the request in a reasonable manner.

* The Government should repeal the legislation that allows agency workers to opt out of equal pay entitlements. In addition, the Government should consider extending the remit of the The Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate (EAS) to include compliance with the Agency Workers Regulations (AWR).

Good employee relationships

* Government should examine the effectiveness of the Information and Consultation Regulations in improving employee engagement in the workplace. In particular it should extend the Regulation to include employees and workers and reduce the threshold for implementation from 10% to 2% of the workforce making the request.

* Government should work with Investors in People, Acas, Trade Unions and others with extensive expertise in this area to promote further the development of better employee engagement and workforce relations, especially in sectors with significant levels of casual employment.

Employment tribunals

* The burden of proof in employment tribunal hearings where status is in dispute should be reversed so that the employer has to prove that the individual is not entitled to the relevant employment rights, not the other way round subject to certain safeguards to discourage vexatious claims.

* 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.

* Government should make the enforcement process simpler for employees and workers by taking enforcement action against employers/engagers who do not pay employment tribunal awards without the employee/worker having to fill in extra forms or pay an extra fee and having to initiate additional court proceedings.

* Government should ensure more robust penalties are in place to deal with those employers who choose to ignore the courts, either by failing to pay financial awards or failing to apply judgments to other relevant relationships in their workforce.

But does this go far enough? Is there anything new in this report that the Trade Unions and the TUC haven't already been campaigning for?

This morning's response from CWU's General Secretary, Dave Ward was not entirely met by Unison's general secretary Dave Prentis whose response was understated:

Pic: Dave Prentis“There is serious room for improvement in employment practices particularly for home care workers who are still being exploited en masse.

In many cases, workers can’t tell whether they are being paid for all the hours they work because their payslips are so confusing. And employers have been allowed to get away with this for too long.

If we want elderly and disabled people in need of care to be treated with dignity, then care workers must be treated with dignity as well.

“But the system is fundamentally flawed as workers are now priced out of justice because of the introduction of tribunal fees.”

This last point of course was not addressed adequately by Matthew Taylor.

The TUC's General Secretary, Francis O'Grady tweeted her response to Taylor's report:

Mirroring Dave Ward, Thompsons Solicitors' chief executive Stephen Cavalier said the report's recommendations were "feeble and add another layer of unnecessary complexity".

"The creation of a new 'dependent contractor' status for gig economy workers would further complicate existing categories of how workers are defined in law," he said.

"What is needed is one category which affords all workers all employment rights from day one of their contracts starting. This new status is unclear and unnecessary."

Len McCluskey, General Secretary of the Unite union said:

Pic: Len McCluskey“This review raised the prospect that the scourge of insecure working in this country would be tackled. It raised the hope that work would once again pay and there would be no profit in exploitation. It indicated that fairness and dignity would be restored to working life.

But it has spectacularly failed to deliver on any of these. The seven pillars of Taylor are very wobbly and tumble to rubble under first scrutiny."Concluding, he said:

“Unite therefore urges the prime minister to thank Mr Taylor for his efforts but do not let this report travel further than a Westminster filing cabinet or gather dust on a No 10 bookshelf because it will not help you deliver on your stated aim of making working life fairer.” 

Source: ITV / CWU / Unite / Unison / Gov.UK / C Ingram


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